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Police Use Bullets and Billboards to Attack Social Movements in Brazil

June 2006

As if it weren’t enough that state and local police in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco have used violence and spurious prosecutions to intimidate social movements and resource rights activists, they have recently unleashed a new weapon: billboards and leaflets.

In recent times we have witnessed the increasing criminalization of social movements, as cases are brought against activists with unreliable accusations and no evidence of wrongdoing. We’re also familiar with cases of biased newspapers articles accusing social movements of creating chaos in cities and rural areas. But now, the police themselves have launched a new defamation campaign using different strategies to attack families that are struggling for their economic and social rights to land and water.

The police force of the state of Pernambuco is using both violence and a public campaign against organizations of landless families. In Recife, capital of the state, police brutally attacked members of grassroots organizations during a street demonstration during the opening day of the Second Social Forum of the Northeast Region. Rural families, organizers and supporters of agrarian reform had met to demonstrate for the land and water rights of families in the Northeast region of Brazil, one of the poorest areas in Latin America.

Because of the brutality of the police, ten participants of the demonstration were wounded, including members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). Jaime Amorim, state coordinator of the MST was shot in the hand by police, and activist Severino Francisco de Melo was also wounded by police gunfire. In a joint statement released May 31, several grassroots organizations said that this was the worst violence ever to have occurred in the context of social forums in Brazil.

These social movements also fear that a defamation campaign using flyers and billboards paid by the Police Officers Association may further jeopardize the protection of civil rights in Pernambuco. As the social movements in Pernambuco said in a statement:

“As public servants, the police officers should respect people and their values. They should not act in such an irresponsible manner. The actions of the Police Officers Association contribute to the establishment of a culture of hate, with nearly fascist characteristics. “

Grassroots International condemns this defamatory campaign and the physical violence that accompanies it. We also condemn the systemic persecution and victimization of families and activists everywhere who are targeted by police because they are fighting for their human rights to food and water, for their rights as indigenous people, who receive, instead of those rights, a campaign of death threats, assassinations, slavery and humiliations. Let us never forget the 19 people who were brutally assassinated by the police in the Carajás Region, in the Pará state, and let us not rest until people everywhere are able to enjoy their full rights as human beings.

We wish the full recuperation of the health of the members of our partner organization, the MST, and of the other social movements of Pernambuco.

Globalize the struggle, Globalize the hope!

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