In a landmark decision, Brazil’s Supreme Court has sentenced Aécio Lúcio Costa Pereira, a fervent supporter of former President Jair Bolsonaro, to 17 years in prison. Pereira, 51, was convicted for his involvement in the riots that erupted in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, following Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat.
On January 8th, thousands of Bolsonaro’s supporters, refusing to accept his loss, stormed state institutions, including the presidential palace, the Supreme Court, and Congress. The rioters, alleging election rigging, wreaked havoc by smashing windows, vandalizing artwork, and throwing furniture into fountains. Pereira was arrested inside the Senate building, where he filmed himself at the Senate president’s table, donning a T-shirt advocating “Military Intervention” and urging Bolsonaro’s supporters to “take to the streets.”
Eight of the 11 Supreme Court justices ruled that Pereira committed multiple crimes, including “criminal association, staging a coup, violent attack on the rule of law, qualified damage, and destruction of public assets.” Pereira, however, denied any wrongdoing, asserting his participation in a peaceful demonstration.
The uprising came a week after the inauguration of left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in a closely contested election. The rioters’ refusal to accept Bolsonaro’s defeat mirrored the sentiments of the former president, who had sown doubt about the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system, making baseless claims of its vulnerability to fraud.
Justice Cristiano Zanin, during the sentencing, remarked, “The [rioters’] objective was to violently seize Brasilia and spread a criminal attack against the rule of law across the country.” Pereira’s trial is the first of many, with Brazil’s Supreme Court planning to hear 232 cases involving the most severe alleged crimes committed during the riots. Over 1,000 other individuals are also under investigation for their roles in the attacks.
The court’s decision to include Bolsonaro in their riot probe has added another layer of complexity to the situation. Prosecutors argue that Bolsonaro may have incited a crime by questioning the legitimacy of the October presidential election. While Bolsonaro was in Florida during the riots, he had previously accused the Supreme Federal Court of bias against him and alleged voting system vulnerabilities despite lacking evidence. However, Bolsonaro has denied encouraging the riots, labeling them as exceeding democratic protest boundaries.
The Brasilia riots have drawn international attention, with many drawing parallels to the January 6, 2021, assault on the United States Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. As Brazil grapples with the aftermath of the insurrection, the nation watches closely, hoping for justice and a reaffirmation of its democratic values.