By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Debates over punishment for animal cruelty have resurfaced in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress just weeks after activists raided the Instituto Royal located in the city of São Roque, São Paulo state, taking 178 beagles from the research center.
Due to a lack of consensus, however, current penalties for animal cruelty as stipulated by Brazilian law appear likely to remain the same as talks within the Congress stall. Some members continue to call for harsher sentencing while others fear negative consequences from increased criminalization.
“The Brazilian government cannot stop being a welfare state and become a criminal state. This is very dangerous,” said Workers’ Party (PT) Congressman Amauri Teixeira, who is cautiously approaching any reforms to the country’s penal Code.
“To criminalize conduct is dangerous. We will not change behaviors, habits and culture through criminalization alone. We must have mechanisms for education.”
The original proposal to change the punishment for animal cruelty was authored by São Paulo Congressman Ricardo Tripoli of the PSDB in 2011.
Tripoli had initially proposed a five to eight-year prison sentence for those convicted of killing or threatening the mental and/or physical health of a dog or cat. The proposal now calls for a six to ten-year sentence for found guilty of killing, beating, poisoning, asphyxiating, burning or torturing the animals. Prison time could be doubled under aggravating circumstances.
“We are waiting for the reform of the penal code, but until we reform we cannot continue with a lenient sentence as it is today,” said Tripoli. “[The sentence] is three months to one year, and the person can convert that to community/social service. For example, a simple donation basket can compensate for the crime of setting a dog or cat on fire.”
The debate over sentencing resurfaced after animal rights activists raided a drug testing laboratory in São Paulo state.
On October 18th, a group of activists stormed the Instituto Royal, taking 178 beagles used to test the effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Many of the animals reportedly showed signs of abuse including shaved skins and cuts. One beagle was found dead, frozen in liquid nitrogen. The incident sparked outrage within the country and the state of the beagles found prompted a social media outcry.
The Instituto Royal states that the animals were needed to conduct scientific research and has denied any mistreatment of the animals, claiming that the research center follows all animal testing rules and regulations.
However, the allegations of animal cruelty prompted the mayor of São Roque Daniel de Oliveira Costa to order a 60-day suspension of the Royal Institute’s business license on October 24th. On that same day, Brazil’s Congress also formed a committee to investigate the accusations against the laboratory.
In an interview with O Estado de São Paulo newspaper on October 25th, Silvia Ortiz, general manager of the center blamed the mistreatment of animals on the activists who disrupted the animals’ habits.
“The activists said that they took the animals from the Instituto Royal because of supposed mistreatment, but who mistreated the animals were the activists,” she told the newspaper.
The Instituto Royal remains under investigation and talks in the Câmara dos Deputados concerning the sentencing of those convicted of animal mistreatment are expected to resume.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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