By Camila Nobrega(A versão em português está disponível no blog da CanalIbase)
On June 12th, while most people were watching the first game of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil vs. Croatia, Brazilian citizen Nadini Odoriz was streaming video of a protest in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro’s most famous beach. She was filming for Coletivo Mariachi a group of video activists created in 2013 when residents of World Cup host cities began questioning the impact the games would have on their home towns.
Seeing the “low battery” sign on her cell phone, Nadini paused to smoke a cigarette. Just a few meters ahead, she saw someone light a fire in a waste bin and flee. Within minutes, at least eight police officers arrived and seeing no one else at the scene, violently arrested her. Initially Nadini was alone as the officers surrounded her, but another woman arrived almost immediately and began filming the police.
[pullquote]Watch and read about other videos documenting threats to freedom of expression in Brazil in this post from the Human Rights Channel.[/pullquote]
“What harm could I do to eight police officers? They hurt me, injuring my leg. A colleague from Coletivo Mariachi covered me for protection.” When taken to the precinct, Nadini was charged with throwing trash on the street as it seems the police were not able to prove that she had lit the fire in the waste bin. However, that type of activity usually only merits a citation and a fine, not an arrest. While Nadini and witnesses insist she did nothing violent, the police response seems disproportionate to her alleged crime. Activists claim that arresting people with trumped up charges is a deliberate tactic employed by police to intimidate protesters.
The witness’ video will be used in Nadini’s defense as evidence of police abuse.Nadini is close to finishing her undergraduate studies in meteorology, but she is now thinking about switching to social sciences because of her recent experiences with video activism and police violence.
At least three other protesters were apprehended at another demonstration in downtown Rio the same day of Nadini’s violent arrest. Professor Pedro Guilherme Mascarenhas was protesting for better salaries and improved public education when he was dragged away by police officers. Authorities accused him of throwing stones, which he and 10 surrounding witnesses firmly denied. In fact, it was practically impossible to know the origin of the projectiles due to widespread confusion regarding another arbitrary arrest.
Critics point out that in many situations, police choose someone to arrest to serve as an example to scare protesters and criminalize peaceful demonstrations. Journalist Rafael Rezende recorded such an incident on his smartphone and shared the video on Facebook. More than 3,000 people have since viewed his profile. “I was filming a police officer [at the demonstration]. He was filming faces of some protestors. Suddenly, people started screaming. A teacher was being dragged and a girl was also being assaulted,” explained Rafael. This first 10 seconds of this video shows the incident from another angle. Both videos are now being used as evidence in criminal proceedings.
Professor Guilherme’s lawyer and WITNESS ally Marino D’Icarahy, who has defended several others protesters that have been arbitrarily arrested, sees videos as a key instrument to protecting civil and human rights. He cites an example from last year:
Mass demonstrations erupted on October 15th, 2013, resulting in the arrest of 189 protesters. A man known as Baiano, who was accused of setting a police car on fire, was one among them. However, we analyzed videos of the scene, they found one that shows Baiano in custody, sitting in the backseat of the car that he supposedly torched. Such injustice is common currently in Rio, where protesters are often framed for crimes they did not commit and police deny information in court.
In watching other videos and photos from the same day, Marino discovered evidence that two other protesters wrongly accused of setting fire to a police booth, Soledad Barbosa and Victor Ribeiro, WITNESS’ consultant in Rio (his arrest was detailed in this blog post) were similarly victims of police violence. Marino introduced the images as evidence in court and despite the police officers’ contradictory defense, both protesters were acquitted of any wrongdoing in May 2014.
Brazilian video activists are working with WITNESS and other organizations to develop guidelines to ensure that videos such as these can be used as evidence in criminal courts. WITNESS and allies also recently published a guide to filming police violence at protests, specific to the Brazilian context (in Portuguese).
“Videos have become an instrument to defend journalists, media activists in general and ordinary citizens from violations committed by the police,” said Patrick Granja, a video activist from the media collective A Nova Democracia (another WITNESS ally) Three days after the beginning of World Cup, he captured footage of a man claiming to be a police officer shooting into the middle of a street to break up a protest:
With the camera rolling, Patrick asked the officer for his identification, to which he responded with aggression and foul language,“I am a police officer, I don’t need identification.” Now with more than 65,000 views, Patrick’s video attracted significant attention, even outside of Brazil. The officer has been identified and authorities opened an inquiry to investigate the case.
Citizens, like activists, have become critical partners in the struggle to ensure rights in Brazilian cities.[Police film the author as she documents a protest in Rio de Janeiro, June 12, 2014. (c) Camila Nobrega]
Camila Nobrega is a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. She is a contributor to The Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network in Latin America Affairs and she is the news editor for Canal Ibase, a project of Brazilian NGO Ibase.