On March 24, 2022, members of the Municipal Guard used force, including pepper spray, against students protesting at a mall against an announced increase in bus fares in Belém.
After the municipal government announced that an increase in bus fare from $3.60 to $5.01 in Brazilian reals (USD $0.67 to $.093) would be implemented pending the mayor’s approval, students began protesting. Speaking with O Liberal, one student expressed that the price increase would likely cause university attendance to drop, as it would be unaffordable for many students who have to take the bus multiple times a day. Protesters also argue that the increase is unjustified due to the poor quality of the buses.
Protests occurred in two locations: in front of the Federal Institute of Pará, where protesters blocked the street, and at the Sacramenta mall. At the mall – the location of a Municipal Department of Mobility (SEMOB) – protesters allegedly seeking to enter the SEMOB were dispersed by members of the Municipal Guard using physical force and pepper spray. Videos shared on social media depict the protesters yelling and waving flags inside and outside of the mall. In the videos, guards in riot gear are also seen shoving and forcefully removing students from inside the mall while several students appear to be suffering from pepper spray.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of disproportionate force against students exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression – conduct which is 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. Security forces have an obligation to refrain from taking action to chill or punish student expressive activity, so long as it is peaceful and responsible. And while security forces also have a responsibility to maintain security and safety if student expressive activity becomes disruptive or destructive, they must refrain from the disproportionate use of force and ensure that their actions do not endanger civilians. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the disproportionate use of force against student protesters 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).