Brazil begins trials of ‘coup’ rioters who stormed centres of power

Receive free Brazilian politics updates

Brazil’s supreme court will begin the first trials of hundreds of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro who in January stormed and vandalised the country’s congress, presidential palace and the court itself.

The insurrection in Brasília, which took place a week after the inauguration of leftwing leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been described by his government as an attempted “coup”.

From Wednesday almost 1,400 defendants will be tried by the supreme court, which has signalled it will take a hard line in punishing those involved.

Rosa Weber, the court’s chief justice, late last month described the vandalism as a “scenario of Dante-esque devastation”.

Rafael Mafei, a law professor at the University of São Paulo, said: “My expectation is that the court will use the trials to send a message about how reprehensible the acts of January 8th were.

“Brazil has a history of leniency with coups. Firm convictions will be essential to reinforce the message that political violence and attempting to overthrow elected governments are serious crimes that do not deserve tolerance.”

Bolsonaro supporters clash with security forces
Bolsonaro supporters clash with security forces in front of the National Congress in Brasília on January 8 © Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the court will examine the cases of three men who were apprehended by police during the riots. They are accused of seeking to abolish the democratic rule of law, in addition to armed criminal association and violence against the property of the state.

A majority vote from the court’s 11 justices will determine each verdict, after prosecution and defence counsel present their cases.

“The trials are an important moment for accountability and for the justice system to highlight the seriousness of the crimes committed,” said Eloísa Machado, a professor of law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

She said the crime of seeking to overthrow the state alone carries a punishment of between four and 12 years. Prosecutors have asked for sentences of up to 30 years.

The riots on January 8 began after thousands of pro-Bolsonaro supporters marched in Brasília in protest against Lula’s election. Upon reaching the city’s political nerve centre, they found the government buildings only lightly guarded and proceeded to storm them. Few government officials were present because of a congressional recess.

Bolsonaro, who was in Florida at the time, has denied any involvement, although police are investigating whether he incited the rioters with his social media posts.

The rightwing former president is facing a series of separate criminal investigations. These include a jewellery scandal in which Bolsonaro and members of his inner circle are accused of conspiring to sell expensive gifts from overseas dignitaries for personal gain.

Brazil’s last coup was in 1964, when the military seized power and held it for more than 20 years. Political violence remains common, and hundreds of cases of attacks against politicians were reported last year ahead of the highly fraught election.

Bolsonaro himself was stabbed in the abdomen and almost killed while on the stump for the presidency in a previous campaign in 2018.

Source link