Favela Tragedy, One More Mother With A Broken Heart

Violent death is a regular ocurrence in Rio's infamous slums. But that doesn't make it any less excruciating for the families of the departed.

Favela landscape
Favela landscape
Alfredo Mergulhao

RIO DE JANEIRO — Sheila Cristina da Silva came back from the market on Friday, June 10, to find her 20-year-old son lying on the pavement under a sheet.

Carlos Eduardo had been shot in the head as he was about to enter the family's home in the Rio favela of Querosene. Desperate at the sight, the mother, 46, plunged her hands into the pool of blood that formed next to her son's dead body and wiped them on her own face.

The boy was buried the following Tuesday, after a series of unexpected and nasty developments. This is his mother's story:

I was coming out of the favela when I heard two shots. I kept walking towards the market. I wanted to buy three potatoes, one carrot and bread to make a broth for my youngest, who was sick.

On the way back, as I was coming up the steps, people from the neighborhood started telling me that my son had been shot by the military police. Moments later, I was told it was Carlos Eduardo. I ran up the steps, pushing past the people, desperate to see if Dudu was still alive. But when I got to the scene, I saw his body lying there on the ground, on the doorstep, covered with a sheet.

I removed it. I wanted to see his face. Except I couldn't bear to look. He was dead, his body very damaged. I screamed so much, I cursed even. I was desperate. Nobody had gone up the stairs to save my son. He wasn't even taken to the hospital.

It hurt so much seeing my son's blood pouring out of him. That blood was my mine.

I was so affected, so indignant that I spread my son's blood over my face. There, at that very moment, I wasn't afraid of anything anymore, not of the police, not of death, because my life had already been destroyed.

I was born and I grew up here, in Querosene. Everybody knows my story. Everybody knows what I've been through to bring up my children. I've given birth to 14 children: Luiz José, 26, Aluísio, 25, Bruno, 24, Gabriela, 23, Luiz Henrique, 21, Carlos Eduardo, 20, Marcela, 17, André, 12, Ezequiel, 4, and Gabriel, 3.

I've forgotten how old two of them are. Natasha and Marquinhos were raised by another family. I couldn't take care of them at the time and had to give them up for adoption. I lost two others. Vitória died a month after she was born. Max José died of pneumonia at age 12. And now, they killed Dudu.

Not a criminal

I've always done everything I could so my children would have something to eat. I've worked as a cleaning lady. I've even begged for money outside the São Sebastião church in Tijuca. I now earn a living as a waste collector in Rio. I live with my six youngest children in a small, one-bedroom house.

Dudu used to sleep with his brothers in the living room. My son was not a criminal. I'd say if he was. They've killed an innocent young man.

Since Friday night, I've been looking for my son's body so we can bury him. On Saturday morning, I went to the forensic department in downtown Rio to take care of everything and bring his body back. But his body wasn't there, and nobody was able to tell me where it'd been taken.

On Saturday evening, a civil servant called me to say the body was at the forensics facility in Nova Iguaçu (a municipality in Rio de Janeiro state). That person said we could go pick up my son's body on Monday, not before. Three days after his death. And all this time I can't sleep.

So I went there when they told me to go, only to be told that the body had been sent back to Rio. What contempt. They only do that because we're black and we don't have perfect teeth.

I finally went back to Rio and was then able to officially identify my son's body. Now I have to find out how much the funeral will cost and ask my neighbors in the favela for help so we can bury Carlos Eduardo.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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