Brazil rules out amnesty for rioters who stormed centres of power

Brazil’s justice minister has vowed there will be no amnesty for radical supporters of rightwing former president Jair Bolsonaro who last month stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace in Brasília.

Pledging to crack down on far-right extremism, Flávio Dino said in an interview: “This is so serious for Brazilian democracy that the response has to be firm and respect the principle of proportionality: when you have a serious crime, you must have a firm response.”

The insurrection on January 8 was not an “isolated event” but a symptom of wider extremism in Latin America’s largest nation, he said.

More than 1,000 people were arrested following the riots, when thousands of pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators stormed and vandalised the government and judicial institutions. They claimed the October election in which leftwing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the rightwing populist was rigged.

“Our expectation is that these people will be convicted,” said Dino, rejecting any possibility the government could offer an amnesty to calm political tensions.

“[An amnesty] has neither been considered nor will it occur, exactly because it would only encourage other similar acts in Brazil and in other countries,” he said.

Opposition politicians had proposed such a scheme late last year following post-election violence by Bolsonaro supporters.

Since Lula’s election there had been a series of events aimed at disrupting the new government, including an alleged plot to bomb Brasília airport in December, Dino said.

Two people have been arrested in connection with the plot, while a third suspect is missing.

“Those planning the bombing were also seeking long-distance rifle training. On their mobile phones, there were conversations in which one of them was seeking information on weapons suitable for long-distance shooting. There is a long dialogue with instructors about this,” said Dino.

A lawyer and former governor of the northeastern state of Maranhão, Dino described the January violence as “unquestionably” a coup attempt. The rioters had hoped their movement would spread across the nation and spur the military to intervene and overthrow Lula, he said.

“Why didn’t this happen? In my view, because of the extreme violence that was used. That discouraged those who were sitting on the fence — and here I refer to the armed forces, the police forces — from taking part.”

Bolsonaro, who served a single term between 2019 and 2022, has sought to distance himself from the violence in Brasília, saying rioters had “crossed the line”. But many see the former president as responsible. Following the election he refused to concede defeat and backed his supporters’ “right to protest”.

Since the end of last year, Bolsonaro has been residing in Florida in the US, although he has told media outlets that he will return to Brazil in the coming weeks.

The country’s Supreme Court has named him in a criminal investigation as being potentially responsible for the disorder. The electoral court is also processing 14 lawsuits against him relating to the riots and his presidential campaign. Bolsonaro denies any wrongdoing and any involvement in the riots.

“I cannot anticipate conclusions from investigations that are in progress, so I cannot legally state that Bolsonaro was responsible. But it is clear he was at least the inspiration for these events,” said Dino.

At the heart of the investigation is finding out who financed the demonstrators, particularly the hardcore groups who camped outside army bases calling for military intervention in the weeks after the election.

Much of the funding came from individual contributions by grassroots supporters of Bolsonaro, but investigators have also documented organised involvement by “people from agribusiness who supplied trucks, tractors and food to the camps”, he said.

The minister also laid blame for the riots on the negligence of Brasília state officials, including governor Ibaneis Rocha, who has been temporarily removed from office for being “painfully absent” in his duties, according to a Supreme Court order. Anderson Torres, the state security chief at the time of the disorder, was arrested after returning to Brazil from the US. Investigators say they found an unsigned, draft decree in his home that sought to overturn the results of the election.

Dino denied claims from Bolsonaro supporters that rioters were being persecuted for their political beliefs.

“These people are not in prison due to their opinions or because they don’t like the government. They are in prison because they turned the legitimate attitude of not liking the government into the physical destruction of the headquarters of the state,” he added.

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