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Human Rights Activists Threatened by UPP Officers

By email from the Network of Communities Against Violence:

In Brazil today we are experiencing a weakening of democracy. This current period is characterized by threats and intimidation attempts (and in many cases successful assassination attempts) against those who dare to denounce human rights violations and other arbitrary actions carried out by a perverse symbiosis of corporate interests and the public sector. Although many want to cover it up, this situation is easily observable in the North of the country where there have been numerous assassinations committed this year due to agrarian-ecological conflicts and due to the tens of activists who, as a result, have had to abandon their homes and cities. There’s more, however: millions of people (yes, millions) live under threat across the country. And this, though not widely acknowledged, is also and especially true in the large cities, occupied by extermination squads and the warmonger logic of the nation’s public security policies.

Since the end of August, activists of The Network Against Violence have suffered a series of threats by policemen. As many already know, our work focuses on fighting for justice and denouncing cases of violent police action. The police have many facets, the most recent of which are the Pacifying Police Units, or UPPs. The false consensus established around these units, however, did not stop us from denouncing numerous acts of corruption committed by UPP officers. We have not been silenced historically in the face of police threats, nor will we be silenced now. Let’s look at the facts.

The first threat took place around 7pm on August 22nd during our weekly meeting. The phone rang. One of our members answered. On the line was a man who did not identify himself but asked if this was The Network Against Violence and that he would like to speak to one of our members, mentioning their name. The member who picked up the phone confirmed that it was she with whom he was speaking. The man then said: “here is the policeman that you took down. You took me down, now I am going to take you down,” and quickly hung up.

At 9am on August 24th, the telephone rang again. A female member picked up and recognized the voice as the same man who had called on the 22nd. He threatened her once again: “you are always ready to take down a policeman. Your time is coming”. Our member responded quickly “I at least have a face and a presence. You are a coward who doesn’t even have this,” and the man hung up immediately.

On the following day around noon, another member answered the phone. A man who did not identify himself asked if this was The Network and said he would like to file a report. He asked the name of the member in question (who did not respond), and what The Network did. He said that her voice was beautiful. At this point the member asked if he was calling to hit on her and he quickly hung up. This call was followed by a series of calls, but the person never identified himself.

As they left the Instituto Medico Legal in the early hours of August 30th, members of The Network accompanying family members of young people from the Coroa favela who had been attacked and arbitrarily imprisoned by UPP policemen, were set upon violently by military police.  One of the officers in a nearby car took out his rifle and brandished it in the direction of the victims’ families.

On the 1st of September we experienced one of the most serious acts of persecution and threats in recent times. Once again, during a telephone call, around 10 am, a man who did not identify himself, described what had happened the night before when some members of The Network were going home. He made a point of showing that he knew who they were: describing them physically including the clothes they were wearing, even going so far as describing their gestures when they were saying good bye to each other. If this were not enough the man announced to the member: “If I kill you, all my problems would be solved.”

Then, on September 2nd, around 10:50 pm, when some members of The Network were returning home, they were confronted by military police in front of a check point on Almirante Barroso Avenue. One of these military policemen, showing that he knew them, inquired after the female members of The Network, asking “how are you ladies?”

On the following Monday, September 5th, another attempt of intimidation occurred. The telephone at our headquarters rang. A man, who was quickly identified by the activist who picked it up as one of the military policemen who had confronted them on the 2nd, asked her why she had not said hello to him then. She asked him what he wanted and the policeman responded: “If you can’t beat me, join me,” and hung up the phone.

We would like to make it clear that we vehemently reject such attacks against our activists. It is inadmissible that situations like these have grown so common. They only highlight the false discourse that we live in a country where everyone shares an equal right to freedom of speech. In reality, some have greater rights than others.  What the events described portray, is just the opposite: those that won’t be silenced against injustices and that speak out against criminal activity conducted by public sector workers, especially policemen, are being prohibited from doing so. We do not accept this and we will continue to expose what really goes on backstage in “the marvelous and pacified city.”