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Proposed Brazil anti-terrorism law sparks human rights concerns

[JURIST] A new anti-terrorism bill presented in the Brazilian National Congress [official website, in Portuguese] on Saturday shortly before the 2014 World Cup is scheduled to begin in June has raised concern among human rights groups who allege the law threatens [Amnesty International press release] free speech and peaceful assembly. Brazilian lawmakers argue the legislation is required to fill a missing piece [UK Guardian report] in the Brazilian legal system as the country's international exposure grows. Additionally, supporters of the bill argue protests at last year's Confederations Cup demonstrate a legislative need because citizens engaged in protest of the match and public spending were sprayed with tear gas and confronted [BBC report] by riot police. The anti-terrorism bill would impose a 15-30 year jail sentence for "causing or inciting widespread terror by threatening or trying to threaten the life, the physical integrity or the health or liberty of a person." The broad language of the bill is a major point of concern for human rights groups, but the drafters of the law stated they will amend the language to clear up ambiguities. Two human rights groups are leading the challenge against the bill: the Institute of Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. The rights groups believe any change in language will not alter the new police power embedded in the law, and the measure may criminalize freedom of expression [AI policy statement].

Human rights in Brazil [2012 AI annual report] have a contentious history and the nation currently has no anti-terrorism laws because similar laws were abused during the military dictatorship era that lasted until 1985. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff [official profile, in Portuguese] will make the ultimate decision on the bill. She has supported improved government transparency [JURIST report] and protection of human rights during her tenure. However, concerns from international human rights groups persist. In January the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged [JURIST report] Brazil to investigate deadly acts of prison violence against inmates.

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