After a raid in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro with more than 20 dead, serious allegations against the police have been made.
Some of the bodies showed signs of torture, said the chief of the human rights commission of the city bar association. There is also a suspicion that some victims were actually executed, added Rodrigo Mondego. The public prosecutor’s office initiated investigations into possible human rights violations.
Evidence was found at the crime scene that some of the victims may have been tortured and murdered in cold blood, Mondego said on Thursday (local time) of the AFP news agency. For example, the face of one of the corpses was smeared with a white powder – presumably cocaine. The victim may have been forced to eat the drug.
“It’s an act of torture,” said Mondego. Witnesses also reported “that men who surrendered to the police were shot in the forest.” Apparently, there were “a large number of arbitrary executions.”
The military police said they tried to track down and arrest leading criminals during the operation in a poor neighborhood in Rio on Tuesday. In doing so, she came under fire. In the ensuing fight, several suspected gang members were killed and a resident who was hit by a ricochet. The police put the number of dead at 23, the health authorities spoke of at least 26 victims.
The high number of deaths alone is cause for concern, Mondego said. “If you look at statistics around the world, you will never see a firefight where more than 20 people are killed on one side and nobody is killed on the other side.”
It was the second deadliest raid in Rio’s history. The metropolitan police have been trying for some time to free the city’s slums, known as “favelas,” from the grip of drug gangs.
Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro congratulated the police officers immediately after the operation on Tuesday: “Bravo to the warriors” who “neutralized the outsiders associated with drug trafficking,” he wrote on Twitter. The controversial head of state is currently fighting for re-election in the upcoming presidential election in October.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch criticized Bolsonaro for his statement. Not only the police operation itself gives cause for concern, but also the President’s choice of words: “His message to the police was clear: You can continue to kill with complete impunity,” said the organization.
In addition, a video published in online networks of another police operation caused outrage. It shows a man being forced into the trunk of a police car in Conversionba in the northeast of the country, even though thick smoke is pouring out of it – apparently from a tear gas canister. Two officers try to close the trunk lid, although the man’s legs are still sticking out.
The man screams in pain, an eyewitness shouts “They will kill him”. The man moves his legs on the video for about a minute, then he becomes motionless – the police officers bend his legs and close the trunk. Police later said the deceased detainee felt “unwell” on the way to the police station and was taken to hospital. It was unclear whether he was already dead or died in hospital. The cause of death was suffocation, according to the autopsy.