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By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – After a heated debate on Wednesday, Brazil’s Senate approved a bill which defines the crime of terrorism in the country. A fiery discussion among senators arose after a clause that specified that the bill did not apply to political demonstrations and social, union and religious movements, was withdrawn from the project.

Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira speaks on the Senate floor supporting the changes in the anti-terrorism bill, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira speaks on the Senate floor supporting the changes in the anti-terrorism bill, photo by Moreira Mariz/Agencia Senado.

The clause was included by representatives at the Chamber of Deputies in August, when the bill was approved by the Lower House, with the intention of excluding political demonstrations and social movements from being categorized as terrorism.

Critics say that by taking out the clause many of these movements and demonstrations fighting for citizens’ rights may now be considered terrorist activities. “This bill makes social fight in our country vulnerable,” Senator Randolfe Rodrigues was quoted as saying to news media.

The approved text defines terrorist acts those which “infringe up on persons, through violence or serious threat, and is motivated by political extremism, religious intolerance or racial, ethnic, gender or xenophobic prejudice, in order to cause widespread panic.”

The bill also determines that attacks against democratic institutions as acts of terrorism. This includes interruption of communication services, hijacking of aircrafts and explosions in locations where there is a large gathering of persons.

The sentence if convicted is sixteen to twenty-four years in jail. If the individual or individuals are helped by a foreign government or international criminal organization and if deaths incur due to the actions, the sentence could reach thirty years in jail.

Senators were divided from the start of the session. While some said that the law would amount to a putting a muzzle on the poor, who have no other course of action to take when their rights are being ignored, others claimed that many individuals use the cloak of social movements and demonstrations to ‘disregard the norms of the democratic state’.

Brazilian human rights organizations criticized the bill. With the Twitter hashtag #EuNaoSouTerrorista (#IamNotaTerrorist), NGO Justiça Global Brasil, says the bill has the ‘potential to hinder, in a dramatic way, the restriction to fundamental rights, and ideological and political expression which has already been seen in Brazil’. According to the organization the bill shows the “intensification of the process of criminalization of social movements, with the arbitrary use of existing criminal offenses against demonstrators and activists,” which the entity says are just a few of the tools employed in the repression of popular demands.

Protests like this one which took place in March 2015 may be considered terrorist acts, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Protests like this one which took place in March 2015 may be considered terrorist acts, photo by Tânia Rêgo/Agencia Brasil.

And international organizations also denounced the project. “The bill continues to pose a serious risk to the Right to Protest and to social movements, and it is essential that there is a more detailed and thorough debate before the Bill is voted upon in the Senate. It is imperative that this debate occurs in order to prevent the adoption of provisions which might endanger democratic freedoms,” stated Article 19, a U.K. organization fighting for freedom of expression around the world.

According to IFEX, a global network of 104 organizations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, there are fears about the potentially wide-reaching effects of the proposed anti-terrorism bill. “The main concern with this bill is that legitimate social protest could be criminalized, a serious concern in Brazil given last year’s massive demonstrations over World Cup spending, something that is likely to be repeated in the run-up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” said the organization in its website.

The revised bill will not go back to the Chamber of Deputies to be once again voted. If approved as is it will go to the President for sanction. If changes are made it will need to go back to the Senate for further approval.

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