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Brazil human rights lawyers seek impeachment of Maranhao governor

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 14 Jan 2014 17:58 GMT
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A prisoner from Brazil's overcrowded Pedrinhas prison is escorted by medics, prison officials and relatives after being injured in a fight between rival gangs inside the jail, in Sao Luiz, capital of Maranhao state, January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Douglas Cunha/O Estado do Maranhao
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RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A group of 12 human rights lawyers filed a request on Tuesday for the impeachment of Roseana Sarney, the governor of Brazil’s Maranhão state, where gruesome prison killings have led to calls for federal intervention.

The request, filed at Maranhão’s Legislative Assembly, says that Sarney is responsible for the overcrowding of state prisons and for serious violations of the human rights of inmates, said Eloisa Machado de Almeida, one of the authors of the petition. 

“The impeachment law says that the chief of the executive branch may be removed from office if, in the case of violation of basic rights, he or she doesn’t hold anyone accountable for the abuses,” Almeida said in a phone interview.  

Since January 2013, at least 62 inmates have been killed at the Pedrinhas complex, the state’s largest jail, which has a capacity for 1,700 prisoners but currently houses about 2,500 men, according to Brazil’s National Justice Council (CNJ). Several riots took place last year, and violence has spread to gang fighting outside the prison. Maranhão, wedged between the Amazon and Brazil’s arid northeastern region, is one of the nation’s poorest states and its prison system is severely overcrowded, with 5,395 inmates in jails with a combined capacity of 2,200 prisoners.  

A video said to have been recorded on Dec. 17, and posted on the website of Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo on Jan. 7, showed gory scenes of inmates posing with the bodies and decapitated heads of three fellow prisoners. In October, a riot at Pedrinhas left at least 10 dead and dozens injured, and prompted the federal government to send troops from the National Security Force to patrol the prison complex.

In their petition, the lawyers say Maranhão is experiencing a humanitarian crisis, involving the worst human rights abuses ever seen in Brazil, “with the connivance of the highest authorities in the state.”

The state legislature has 15 days to create a commission to investigate the lawyers’ petition. The Sarney administration, which also has 15 days to defend itself from the allegations, said in a statement that “finding solutions to the problems in Maranhão’s prison system is a priority.”

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