On May 12, 2021, municipal guards (a local state security force) used force and arrested three Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) students during a nonviolent protest over cuts to higher education spending by Brazil’s Minister of Education, Milton Ribeiro.
On May 12, Ribeiro was scheduled to give an interview at Brazil’s Rádio Guaíba’s headquarters, located in Porto Alegre. A small group of UFRGS students gathered outside of the entrance to the headquarters to protest the Ministry’s budget cuts.
Sources indicate that as Ribeiro approached the radio station’s entrance, members of his entourage, including staff and personal guards, physically engaged with and pushed out of the way some of the protesters who chanted in front of the entrance. Ribeiro then entered the building without coming into physical contact with the protesters. In the street, municipal guards attempted to disperse protesters by firing ammunition towards the ground and pushing protesters. The commander of the Municipal Guard in Porto Alegre, Marcelo Nascimento, stated that the weapons were loaded with non-lethal ammunition in order to “scatter” the protesters. Sources also indicate that guards fired pepper spray at the students.
Three protesting students, Júlio Câmara, Daniel Oliveira, and Gustavo Cirello, were arrested and investigated for “minor bodily harm.” The students, who were released later that evening, denied the charge. Videos and reports of the incident do not indicate that the students engaged in violent activity.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and arrests in an apparent effort to restrict nonviolent student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Brazil is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation, do not endanger protesters, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violence and the use of force during student protests undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).