With threat of protest, police arrest activists on eve of World Cup final
By: Taylor Barnes, Special for USA TODAY Sports
RIO DE JANEIRO – Some 17 people were arrested Saturday and served with five-day “temporary prison” orders as they are under investigation for armed gang formation. Amongst those arrested are alternative media journalists, lawyers and even a public school teacher prominent in Brazil’s street demonstrations, whose members have called for protests tomorrow around the World Cup final.
Activist Elisa Quadros, a prominent figure in Rio’s protests, was arrested in a special operation in the southern city of Porto Alegre. In addition to the 17 arrested, two underage suspects were apprehended, and nine more are considered fugitives and have outstanding arrest warrants.
[…] “Evidence collected throughout the investigations and today show that this group was mobilizing to carry out acts of violence,” said Veloso. “This is not an operation that is trying to repress demonstrations in any way,” he added. If found guilty, the charge of armed gang formation can lead to a three year prison sentence […]
In what seemed to be a nod to the impression that the timing of the arrests had a clear relation with the World Cup, Veloso said that officers would have arrested suspects earlier had their warrants been approved, but also said the potential for violence in tomorrow’s protest was a real concern. Argentina and Germany will play in the final in the city’s Maracanã stadium.
Veloso also said that the investigations have been in the works for months. In a reference to a local cameraman who was killed by an explosive device in February, for whose death two protesters have been arrested and are awaiting trial, Veloso told reporters: “Who knows there wouldn’t be another Santiago Sunday?”
But the material apprehended with the protesters that was shown to reporters Saturday raised questions about how much evidence police had of armed gang formation. The only firearm found amongst the suspects, the police said, actually belonged to a suspect’s father. The father claimed responsibility for the revolver and was then also imprisoned.
Police presented a funnel, durepox and a bottle of liquid said to smell of gas, which presumably could be used to make an explosive device. Also presented was an object police described as a shock weapon and what seemed to be a hammer. Police also said they had recorded phone conversations that would incriminate the suspects.
Most of the material, however, was not weapons: piles of a leftist newspaper called Students of the People, a vest emblazoned with “PRESS,” a banner, and protective gear like gas masks and eye glasses. One person, not amongst the original warrants, was arrested on the spot for having marijuana.
Police officials defended apprehending such material, explaining that items like newspapers and the banner could be evidence of suspects’ link to a gang that perpetrates violence. Reporters asked about apprehending protective gear, which many of themselves also use in demonstrations. Renata Araújo, a police chief involved in the operation, said that whereas media professionals use such material “to work,” violent demonstrators use them to “practice crimes.”
Rosilene Teixeira, 45, the mother of one of the demonstrators who was arrested, said she was told by police they would be transferred to the Bangu penitentiary, a large jail complex in Rio’s far west zone largely filled with drug traffickers…
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