By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Lawyers from a trade group in São Paulo have concluded that there was excessive repression at an anti-World Cup demonstration that occurred in the country’s financial capital last Saturday, February 22nd, as support for the international sports tournament appears to wane in Brazil.
“Even just for the numbers of [people detained], which corresponds to almost one fourth of protesters, and for that expressive number to include professionals, such as journalists, which were kept from their right to exercise their profession, it seems clear to us that there was excess on the part of the military police,” Marcos da Costa, president of Ordem de Advogados do Brasil de São Paulo (Brazil’s Order of Lawyers), told Agência Brasil on Monday, February 24th.
This statement comes two days after close to one thousand demonstrators gathered in São Paulo’s downtown República square on Saturday, February 22nd to protest against the high cost of staging the World Cup Brazil is hosting next June and July.
What began as a peaceful gathering (Não Vai Ter Copa – There Won’t Be a World Cup) turned violent as protesters clashed with police and groups of people attacked local bank branches. According the police, 262 demonstrators were arrested, the highest number of protesters arrested at one event since massive protests over a bus fare hike rocked Brazil in June and July of 2013.
Journalists from three outlets reported being attacked by police during the demonstration. Photographer Bruno Santos from the online portal Terra was beat and his equipment was destroyed by the police. Officers are also said to have beat Folha de São Paulo’s reporter Reynaldo Tortullo and O Globo’s Sergio Roxo. Another journalist, Paulo Toledo Piza from G1 online news, was not allowed to cover the event.
Fernando Grella, the Secretary of Public Safety of São Paulo state, labeled the action of military police at the protest a “success” but promised to look into accusations of violence against members of the press.
“Journalists and the police share the same space. While police try to maintain order, the journalists, which are the eyes of society, try to record what is happening. Individual cases of abuse will be investigated,” Grella said last Monday.
He affirmed that police have in the past and will continue to distribute vests to journalists covering events so that they are easily identified at protests. Earlier this month, a reporter covering an event was killed when he was struck by a flare allegedly launched by protesters.
Last Saturday’s confrontation is just the latest incident of violence between police and protesters as Brazil struggles to quell public safety fears during the international tournament. Attempts to crack down on protests have been met with accusations of excessive use of police force by both demonstrators and human rights groups in a country where support for the FIFA World Cup tournament appears to be fading.
A Datafolha survey released on February 24th shows that the World Cup event has the support of 52 percent of Brazilians, a noticeably smaller figure from the 79 percent who were in favor of hosting the tournament in Brazil in 2008. Thirty eight percent of Brazilians are now against the World Cup, compared to the ten percent who were not favorable to it in 2008.
Initially seen as a blessing for the five-time FIFA World Cup winner, a chance to develop public transportation networks and embark on ambitious infrastructure projects, Brazil’s path to the World Cup has been marked by unfinished and unsafe stadiums, countrywide protests over the high costs of the event, as well as inadequate mass transit and accommodation offerings.