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Brazil opens trials over pro-Bolsonaro riots

By AFP - Sep 15,2023 - Last updated at Sep 15,2023

BRASÍLIA — Brazil’s supreme court on Wednesday opened its first trials over the January 8 riots by supporters of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, putting four accused in the dock in one of the buildings invaded that day.

The court’s 11 justices will deliver their decisions one by one in each case, with a majority needed to secure a conviction.

The lead judge on the case, Alexandre de Moraes, has already ruled to convict the first accused — a 51-year-old man named Aecio Pereira — recommending he be sentenced to 17 years in prison for his actions, which included invading the floor of the senate in a T-shirt marked “Military Intervention”.

A second judge asked for a much lighter sentence of just 2.5 years, with the trial scheduled to resume on Thursday and nine justices still left to weigh in.

Moraes said the rioters, who also ransacked the presidential palace and congress, carried out a “criminal invasion aimed at illegally seizing power via a military coup and violently overthrowing (the) democratically elected government” of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The Brasilia riots deeply shook a nation still divided by veteran leftist Lula’s narrow win over Bolsonaro in the October 2022 presidential race, and drew inevitable comparisons to the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s political role model.

Outraged over Bolsonaro’s loss to Lula, thousands of his supporters overwhelmed security to storm the seat of power a week after Lula’s inauguration, calling for a military intervention to oust the newly installed president, who was not in Brasilia at the time.

They ran riot inside the three buildings, smashing windows, throwing furniture into fountains, vandalising artwork and turning the senate’s central dais into a slide.

The four men on trial, aged between 24 and 52, are accused of crimes including armed criminal conspiracy, violent uprising against the rule of law and an attempted coup.

The supreme court plans to hear a total of 232 cases involving the most serious alleged crimes committed during the riots.

The first four accused each face a total of up to 30 years in prison. They have denied the accusations against them, saying they believed the protests would be peaceful.

 

Damning cell phone video 

 

But prosecutors said the first accused had openly incited a coup.

Prosecutor Carlos Frederico Santos said the evidence against Pereira included a cell phone video he recorded during the riots, in which he appeared at the front of the senate chamber celebrating the invasion.

“His support for the coup-mongering intent of the anti-democratic horde is irrefutable,” Santos said.

Lawyers for Pereira, reportedly a former employee of the Sao Paulo municipal sanitation company, told the court their client was unarmed and committed no acts of violence.

Defence attorney Sebastiao Coelho da Silva called the trial “politically motivated”.

In addition to the 232 cases before the supreme court, prosecutors are investigating more than 1,000 others over the attacks, mostly on lesser charges that could be settled in plea bargains.

Investigators are also working to trace the financial backers behind the protests and establish whether police and army officers played a role. Seven Brasilia police commanders were arrested last month for dereliction of duty in connection with the riots.

Bolsonaro, who was in the United States at the time, faces investigation over accusations of inciting the riots.

The 68-year-old ex-army captain, an open admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, denies wrongdoing.

“Some people are obsessed with trying to link me” to the events of January 8, he told newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Monday.

Bolsonaro is also under investigation over various allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

In June, electoral authorities barred him from running for office for eight years over his unproven allegations that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to large-scale fraud.

 

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