Brazil’s Supreme Court announced a 17-year jail term Thursday for the first defendant tried and convicted over the storming of the seats of power by supporters of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro.
After a trial that began only Wednesday, the court’s 11 justices ruled unanimously to convict 51-year-old Aecio Pereira, with a majority finding he had committed serious crimes including an attempted coup when he stormed the floor of the Senate on January 8, as thousands of Bolsonaro supporters rioted in a bid to oust leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Overwhelming security, the mob also invaded the presidential palace and the high court itself, smashing windows, throwing furniture into fountains, vandalizing artwork and turning the Senate’s central dais into a slide.
It was the first verdict over the riots, which deeply shook a nation still divided by Lula’s narrow win over Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October 2022 presidential race.
The violence, which came a week after Lula’s inauguration, drew inevitable comparisons to the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by supporters of then-president Donald Trump — Bolsonaro’s political role model.
“The (rioters’) objective was to violently seize Brasilia and spread a criminal attack against the rule of law across the country,” Justice Cristiano Zanin said Thursday in delivering his ruling.
Three of the court’s judges ruled to convict Pereira on only some of the five charges he faced, including lesser counts such as destruction of property.
Eight ruled to convict him on all five counts, including violent uprising against the rule of law and an attempted coup.
Pereira, who denied wrongdoing, made an obscenity-laced cell-phone video of himself at the Senate president’s table during the riots, wearing a T-shirt marked “Military Intervention” and urging fellow Bolsonaro supporters to “take to the streets.”
– First of hundreds –
Lawyers for Pereira, reportedly a former employee of the Sao Paulo municipal sanitation company, told the court their client was unarmed and committed no acts of violence.
Defense attorney Sebastiao Coelho da Silva called the trial “politically motivated.”
He is the first defendant to be tried over the riots, in an initial batch of four cases before the Supreme Court.
They each face a total of up to 30 years in prison.
In all, the high court plans to hear a total of 232 cases involving the most serious alleged crimes committed during the riots.
Prosecutors are also investigating more than 1,000 others over the attacks, mostly on lesser charges that could be settled in plea bargains.
Investigators are also working to trace the financial backers behind the protests and establish whether police and army officers played a role. Seven Brasilia police commanders were arrested last month for dereliction of duty in connection with the riots.
Bolsonaro, who was in the United States at the time, faces investigation over accusations of inciting the riots.
The 68-year-old ex-army captain, an open admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, denies wrongdoing.
“Some people are obsessed with trying to link me” to the events of January 8, he told newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Monday.
Bolsonaro is also under investigation over various allegations of corruption and abuse of office.
In June, electoral authorities barred him from running for office for eight years over his unproven allegations that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to large-scale fraud.
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