By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a month of few major incidents across the host cities in Brazil, military police responded with force in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, July 13th as the 2014 FIFA World Cup came to a close. In Tijuca, military police used tear gas, physical force and batons to disperse a group of approximately three hundred protestors.
Barriers were erected and transportation in the neighborhood also came to a halt as officers blocked off a road and temporarily shut down a subway station during the incident.
For several hours, residents there were unable to move freely around or out of the area and worried for their own safety. Police reportedly used tear gas and batons to disperse the demonstrators and stop their advance toward the stadium.
“I couldn’t even leave my house yesterday, due to the police restricting movement in violation of the law,” an American living in Tijuca who preferred to remain nameless told The Rio Times on Monday, July 14th, adding, “not to mention the stench of tear gas in the air and the threat of becoming a victim of indiscriminate police brutality.”
While many had feared widespread protests would sweep the city during the 2014 FIFA Word Cup, demonstrations in Rio had remained relatively calm compared to the massive protests that spread throughout the country during June of last year.
The Sunday demonstration had been organized through social networks and involved a small group numbering in the hundreds forming around 2PM with plans to march to Rio’s iconic Maracanã Stadium where the World Cup match between Germany and Argentina was taking place later that afternoon.
Carrying signs and banners in both Portuguese and English, mostly with slogans against the World Cup and FIFA organization, the group was surrounded by military police (PM) while in Praça Saens Peña, in Tijuca.
During the incident, the neighborhood’s street of Rua Conde de Bonfim was closed and remained closed until 7PM. The Saens Peña subway station was also shut down around 4PM and remained closed for nearly three hours.
As the afternoon progressed a video taken by a user in the Saens Peña metro (subway) station began to circulate on social networks, showing commotion in the station with police jumping turnstiles and clashes between police and protesters who were heading to subway platform. At least eight people were arrested, according to the Habeas Corpus lawyers group.
Additionally, protestors and at least four journalists were wounded during the commotion. A filmmaker and photographer were allegedly beaten by police and their equipment broken. A freelance photographer, reportedly suffered wounds after being hit by shrapnel from an exploding tear gas bomb.
Stating that the level of aggression from military police when dealing with protestors was rising, Rio de Janeiro activist Alice de Marchi told NPR before the World Cup protest; “The way that the militarization has spread on the city. The militarization progress and process is very serious.”
During last year’s wide spread protests, the Brazilian military police were often criticized for ‘heavy-handed’ tactics. Sunday’s operations, especially those in Tijuca, again raised concerns about the safety and efficiency of a militarized police force.
Meanwhile, in the neighborhood of Copacabana, where the FIFA Fan Fest was a focal point for large crowds watching matches, military people intervened with pepper spray to break up several fights between Brazilian and Argentinean fans, following Argentina’s loss to Germany in the final match.