Two members of Brazil's popular housing movement have been fined by a federal court, Brasil de Fato reported Friday. Their crime? Occupying a dilapidated, abandoned Social Security Institute, INSS, building that's been empty for almost 30 years.
Apart from the hefty fine, roughly US$615 dollars, Hilma de Lourdes Santos and Maria das Graças de Souza were also ordered to perform community service work.
The old INSS building, nothing more than a useless dust magnet, is located in the center of Curitiba, capital of Parana state. In April 2015, the building was occupied by 120 homeless families under the leadership of the National Union for Popular Housing, UNMP, and National Movement for Struggle for Housing, MNLM.
At the time of the occupation, according to Brasil de Fato, the site housed unused office materials, including chairs and broken computers. Two weeks later, an eviction notice forced the occupants to withdraw from the building at the threat of police action.
Brazil's federal police, even after the departure of the homeless occupants, opened an investigation to identify leaders of the occupation.
According to Graças de Souza, coordinator of the UNMP-Parana, the decision handed down by the 14th Federal Special Court was determined without hearing testimony from the two activists.
"We were instantaneously condemned, forced to pay a fine to close the process," she said, adding that the “judge hardly looked at the case, he doesn't know, he doesn't dig deep. First they condemn, afterwards they evaluate the case,” Graças de Souza said.
Lourdes Santos, a member of the National Movement for Housing Struggle, shares Graças de Souza's sentiments claiming that she was surprised by the decision.
"I was criminalized for fighting for a right that belongs to everyone," she said.