Brazil’s Supreme Court sentences first Brasilia riot defendant to 17 years

Justices vote to convict Aecio Lucio Costa Pereira on charges that included armed association and an attempted coup.

Security forces fire a weapon during protests in Brasilia on January 8, 2023.
Security forces attempt to disperse supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as they stormed government buildings in Brasilia on January 8, 2023 [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Brazil’s Supreme Court has announced a 17-year sentence for the first defendant tried and convicted for joining a mob of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters that stormed state institutions in Brasilia earlier this year.

A majority of the court’s justices on Thursday voted in favour of convicting Aecio Lucio Costa Pereira on charges that included armed criminal association, damage to historic buildings, and an attempted coup.

It was the first verdict issued over the January 8 riot, which shook a country that remains deeply divided over Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat last year to his left-wing rival, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil is pushing to hold participants in the attack accountable and send a firm message that efforts to undermine democracy will not be tolerated.

“We have turned the page on the days of coups,” Brazilian prosecutor Carlos Frederico Santos told the court as the trials began on Wednesday.

“Those who embrace the spurious idea that power can be won through violence and in violation of constitutional norms must respond for the resulting crimes.”

The riot broke out a week after Lula was formally sworn into office after he defeated Bolsonaro, a former army captain, in a hard-fought presidential run-off in October of last year.

Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the country’s Supreme Court, as well as the presidential palace and Congress building, after many of them spent weeks calling on the military to contest Lula’s victory.

The attack drew comparisons to a similar incident in the United States on January 6, 2021, when a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump broke into the US Capitol in an effort to roll back his electoral defeat to Joe Biden.

The 51-year-old Pereira, who was arrested in the Senate building during the riot in Brasilia, argued on Wednesday that he had only taken part in a peaceful demonstration.

Lawyers for Pereira told the court their client was unarmed and committed no acts of violence. Defence attorney Sebastiao Coelho da Silva called the trial “politically motivated”.

Three of the Supreme Court’s justices ruled on Thursday 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.

“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 in delivering his ruling.

Bolsonaro himself has faced scrutiny over his actions surrounding the riot, speaking with police in April and denying any involvement in what he described as “unfortunate” events.

In the months leading up to last year’s presidential election, Bolsonaro caused alarm by spreading false claims that the country’s voting system was vulnerable to widespread fraud and suggesting that he would not accept defeat.

In June, the country’s highest electoral court barred him from holding public office until 2030 over his conduct ahead of the vote.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies