Brazil: Threats and attacks against HRDs in Rio de Janeiro
On the morning of 1 October 2016, Brazilian police arrested Rene Silva Dos Santos, a prominent community journalist and founder of Voz da Comunidades, and Renato Moura, a photographer, in the Complexo do Alemao favela, north of Rio de Janeiro.
Rene Silva and Renato Moura were reporting about the forced eviction of a group of residents who were trying to re-occupy their homes in an area of Alemao known as Favelinha da Skol. More than 500 families were evicted from the area in 2010. Local authorities promised to build replacement apartments for them, but until today the families have not been relocated or received adequate compensation.
On 1 October, police officers stopped Renato Moura, who was taking photographs of the forced evictions, and seized his camera. When Rene Silva took out his phone to broadcast what was happening, the officers pepper-sprayed him. Rene Silva and Renato Moura were arrested and brought to the police station. They were charged with contempt of authority and trespassing. A member of Coletivo Papo Reto, a group of citizen journalists documenting life in the Complexo do Alemão favela, was also arrested. The three were then released on the same day.
When he learned about the arrest of Rene Silva and Renato Moura, Raull Santiago, human rights defender and co-founder of Coletivo Papo Reto, went to the police station with some of his colleagues. When they arrived there, officers insulted and threatened them. Raull reported that the same officers had also threatened him prior to this event.
Police continued to attack the protesters at Favelinha da Skol while the human rights defenders were in the station. Officers used tear-gas and rubber bullets against peaceful local residents. When Raull returned there to film the protest, he had to flee because the police fired rubber bullets against him and his colleagues. One member of Coletivo Papo Reto was hit in his leg and his rib.
According to Raull, the officers who were chasing them knew his identity and the attack was targeted. Furthermore, when Rene Silva was arrested, the police officer asked him whether he was working with Raull and with Coletivo Papo Reto. The officer also told him that they were “keeping an eye on Raull and trying to collect evidence against him”.
On 15 September, several members of the military police (MP) threatened Raull Santiago during an operation in Complexo do Alemão. The human rights defender witnessed some military police officers stopping a bus and ordering several young men to step out of the vehicle. One officer then started beating one of the youths. Other police officers noticed that Raull was filming the incident. They ordered him to show his ID and to go as a witness to the police station. Raull replied that he would only go as a witness on behalf of the young man who had been assaulted.
At this point, one officer shouted to him "go film some criminals", another warned him "I know where you live" and then they started filming him. A third officer approached him and complained that he was getting in the way of a police operation. A fourth one said to Raull "you can film me and you can complain, but nothing will happen, at worst I will just be transferred".
A police officer also threatened him saying he would send someone in civilian clothes on a motorbike who "would come by your house and take you and no one would know what happened". The human rights defender was eventually able to leave the scene unharmed. A day later, a group of policemen was seen circulating around Complexo do Alemão asking local residents about Raull and his whereabouts.
Due to their work reporting on police abuse, several members of the collective Papo Reto have been repeatedly threatened. According to Amnesty International, between 2010 and 2013 there have been 1,275 killings by on-duty police. As reported by Human Rights Watch:
Police in the state of Rio de Janeiro have killed more than 8,000 people in the past decade, including at least 645 people in 2015. One fifth of all homicides in the city of Rio last year were police killings. Three quarters of those killed by police were black men.
Local residents in Complexo do Alemao, as well as other favelas in Rio de Janeiro, have documented increasing militarisation and police violence. In 2010, Rio authorities introduced the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit), with the aim to fight against drug-traffickers and pacify the favelas. However, local human rights defenders have reported that the UPP has only increased the level of violence and its officers have often been responsible for violent attacks and killings of unarmed civilians.
Daiene Mendes, local journalist from Complexo do Alemao, wrote in The Guardian:
The UPP [pacifying police unit] project that promised the pacification of the Complexo do Alemão has not worked for favela residents, who now have to live with this daily reality. Every time I leave home, it feels as if three guns are pointed at my head.
Front Line Defenders condemns the death threats against human rights defender Raull Santiago and the attack against community journalists in Complexo do Alemão. It also calls upon the Brazilian authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation into the death threats against human rights defender Raull Santiago, and take all necessary measures to guarantee his physical and psychological integrity and security.