Brazilian police are preemptively detaining protesters and using infiltrators to facilitate their arrests, students allege.
Students who were arbitrarily detained by police in Sao Paulo, Brazil, ahead of a massive anti-coup demonstration denied police accusations that they intended to engage in vandalism and alleged a police infiltrator was responsible for their arrests, Ponte reported Thursday.
The arrest of 26 youth before they could even participate in the 100,000-strong rally against the coup regime drew widespread condemnation.
The day after the demonstration, police claimed that the arrest of 18 youth at the Sao Paulo Cultural Center was unexpected and that police stopped the group for allegedly looking suspicious.
Police falsely claimed that members of the group confessed that they intended to engage in vandalism during the protest. These “confessions” were never produced nor presented before a judge.
One student alleged that police used violence during their arrest and tried to suggest that an iron bar found across the street was theirs.
When police were asked if the group was detained in relation to a previous investigation, Ponte reported that Colonel Dimitrios Fyskatoris was unequivocal in his response, saying, “There was no prior act, these people were detained on the street.”
However, those arrested that day contend that their detention had the hallmarks of a planned police operation.
The victims told Ponte that a large contingent of police, including a dozen vehicles and a helicopter, took part in the arrests. Additionally, the students said they were apprehended while inside the cultural center and there was no way the police could have seen them from the street, as the police had alleged.
“There's no way it was by chance,” said one student, who asked not to be identified.
Instead many of those arrested believe that police infiltrated their group and it was a person by the name of Baltazar Mendes, otherwise known as Balta, who told police to arrest the group.
The informal group of students was formed only days before the rally was to take place and came together over concerns there might be police repression and it would be safer to go as a group.
“We formed a group to meet up, but we had a lot of people who did not know each other. This group was formed precisely to create a group to go to the rally together, to get a large group and (that) in a way would serve as protection, because of police repression that we were seeing,” an unidentified student told Ponte.
Most of the members of the group are in their 20's. Balta, on the other hand is 37 years old and was brought into the group by a similarly older member.
The group had actually intended to meet at the Luz train station, but it was Balta who suggested they meet at the Sao Paulo Cultural Center, where the arrests took place.
Adding to their suspicions, when the group was taken away by police, most were loaded up into a bus while Balta was taken alone in a police car and never arrived at the police station.
Ponte, an outlet dedicated to the defense of human rights, conducted an investigation of Balta's social media accounts.
The outlet found that Balta had very few posts and did not have any personal pictures uploaded. The few posts he did have were impersonal and only a handful mentioned politics.
Balta made a post on the day of the arrests but failed to mentioned the detention of his associates.
Ponte said they spoke with Balta and posted a brief conversation from WhatsApp where he denied he was a police officer.
Balta also had an account on the Tinder dating app, where he tried to portray himself as a leftist, though he referenced a quote that he incorrectly attributed to Karl Marx. According to Ponte, Balta apparently would very quickly make his conversations on Tinder about the upcoming rallies against the coup.
The students were eventually freed Monday on the order of Judge Rodrigo Tellini de Aguirre Camargo, who compared the behavior of police to that of the dictatorship.
The next day Balta shut down his social media accounts.
Ponte approached the Sao Paulo Military Police and the Sao Paulo Security Secretariat about the alleged use of infiltrators but did not receive a response.