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21 February 2020

Front Line Defenders condemns police violence against Raull Santiago and other members of Coletivo Papo Reto

In the late afternoon of 19 February 2020, Raull Santiago and his colleagues from Papo Reto Collective were violently stopped and threatened by officers from the riot police as they returned from meetings in the Favela da Maré, Rio de Janeiro. The officers stopped one of the three motorcycles transporting Raull Santiago and his colleagues, while pointing rifles at them. The people on the other two motorcycles were instructed to leave “and not look back”. Those who were ordered to remain were then forced to sit down and give up their mobile phones.

Before his phone was confiscated, Raull Santiago filmed the violent behaviour of the police and streamed it live on Twitter for about five minutes. One of the police officers noticed that he was recording and told Raull Santiago to identify himself and stop filming, holding him at gunpoint. After Raull Santiago identified himself as a human rights defender, the police officer abused him verbally and physically, and threatened that he would be taken to a police station for “disobedience and resistance”. Raull Santiago and his colleagues were then taken to the 21st Police Station, where they were subsequently joined by their lawyers, friends, colleagues, media and other allies. The defenders gave a statement to the police on what had happened, and left the station.

Raull Santiago is a nationally and internationally recognised human rights defender from Rio de Janeiro. He is the co-founder of Coletivo Papo Reto and Movimentos, human rights groups exposing the impacts of the so-called war on drugs on black youth, as well as denouncing and bringing visibility to cases of police violence and human rights violations against favela residents.

What Raul Santiago and his colleagues experienced is an example of the selective and brutal approach that police officers are increasingly using in marginalised areas or favelas. It is a symptom of the structural racism, criminalisation and targetting of black youth. As explained by Raull Santiago: “I do not believe that this type of approach takes place at other Rio de Janeiro addresses. You will not see this in Copacabana or Ipanema or Leblon, but you will see it in the Maré Complex. He [the riot police officer] said ‘you were coming out of the Maré Complex, on three motorcycles!’. Which means, to society, young black persons from favelas who ride on motorcycles must be suspects and also criminals”.

Defenders in Rio de Janeiro have worked tirelessly to denounce the human rights violations resulting from police operations. The police brutality is not new, but since the government of Wilson Witzel took office, there has been an increase in the number of threats, intimidation, and physical and psychological abuse committed by police officers, including the authorisation of helicopters to shoot down into favelas. Upon taking office, the governor declared that police should shoot to kill and “aim at the head” when conducting operations. 2019 was the worst year for police killings in Rio de Janeiro since records began in 1998, with 1,810 people killed, according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública – ISP.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the police violence used against Raull Santiago and other members of Coletivo Papo Reto, as well as the targeted police brutality against black youth in Rio de Janeiro. Front Line Defenders reminds the authorities in Brazil that public officials should not intimidate or exercise violence against unarmed civilians; and that when they do, state authorities should apply appropriate sanctions and take immediate and impartial measures to bring those responsible to justice, in accordance with international standards.