The Brazilian newspaper O Globo, citing Brasilia’s Health Department, reported on Wednesday that as many as 70 men arrested in relation to the January 8 anti-socialist riot in the nation’s capital had received doses of coronavirus vaccine products.
The report stated that 134 people at the detention center in Papuda, which took in about 904 male prisoners following the riot, had been processed and received vaccines for a host of diseases, including hepatitis B and tetanus. The report listed 64 men as having rejected the coronavirus vaccine products available, meaning 70 did receive the doses. Another 19 reportedly refused hepatitis, tetanus, and the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The report appeared to confirm police assurances that reports of vaccine availability for suspected rioters did not mean that authorities would force the medical product on those in custody. Following the initial arrests, some claims surfaced online that the government of far-left President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would be mandating coronavirus injections for rioters, prompting outrage on the political right and derision on the left.
Anti-Lula protesters attacked Brasilia on January 8, storming the Brazilian Congress and supreme court (the Supreme Federal Tribunal, or STF), and the Planalto Palace, the office of the president. The mob left the STF headquarters largely unusable, destroying its outer glass facade, busts of former justices, and tearing apart the seats in the main courtroom and other key facilities. The Congress also sustained significant destruction, including the smashing of its outer glass walls; Planalto was the least impacted but suffered losses of priceless historical artifacts. One protester reportedly made off with a replica of the Brazilian constitution; former President Jair Bolsonaro’s state portrait reportedly remains missing at press time, the only one in Planalto not trampled on, as seen in videos posted by the protesters online.
The protesters convened to demand an end to Lula’s time as president, which began on January 1. Lula, convicted on multiple appeals of taking bribes during his prior presidential term, was inaugurated after narrowly defeating Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential race. Lula’s opponents, most of them enthusiastic Bolsonaro supporters, argue that Lula’s criminal convictions should have disqualified him from running for office. The STF invalidated his convictions in 2021 on jurisdictional grounds, thus freeing him from prison and allowing him on the ballot, but never addressed or presented any evidence that Lula was not guilty.Before the election the STF’s election oversight offshoot, the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), heavily censored references in Brazilian media to Lula’s criminal past, imposing fines on journalists who mentioned that he was a convicted felon. Lula, in contrast, personally referred to Bolsonaro as a “pedophile” during a podcast with no consequences.
Opponents of Lula continue to argue that these circumstances meant Brazilians did not get a free and fair election process and claim the Brazilian constitution allows the armed forces to eject Lula as a result. The armed forces have not responded positively to calls for intervention.
Following the riots, Brazilian police arrested about 300 people for being present at the riot and about another 1,200 people at a nearby protest camp in front of the armed forces headquarters in Brasilia. Authorities have said they estimate that about 5,000 people participated in the riot. About 680 of those initially arrested and detained in a police academy gymnasium were later freed – many of them elderly, mothers with young children, or those living with chronic illness – having had apparently no relation to the riot.
Those who remained in custody were split between the Papuda facility, for men, and a detention center in Colmeia, for women. The O Globo report addressed the detained in Papuda, which the newspaper reported totaled 904 people. Authorities had completed the process of processing the health records of only 134 of these men as of Wednesday, according to the report. O Globo did not specify if those who refused coronavirus vaccine products had already been vaccinated in the past.
It also did not specify which vaccine products were available to those in detention. Brazil has approved seven vaccine products for legal use: the Sinopharm and Sinovac products from China; the American mRNA product from Pfizer, BioNTech, and China’s Fosun Pharma; the American Johnson & Johnson vaccine product; Russia’s “Sputnik V;” and India’s “Covishield.”
The report appeared to contradict prior reports that appeared to claim those imprisoned were under a coronavirus vaccine product mandate and that hundreds, not dozens, had already been injected. The Estado de Minas newspaper reported on January 11 that nearly 700 of those arrested “will get the vaccine against” Chinese coronavirus as part of medical processing, without clarifying if the inmates were given a choice.
Similarly, the newspaper A Crítica de Campo Grande claimed that those in police custody were “examined, vaccinated against diseases like [Chinese coronavirus] if necessary, and taken note of any sort of comorbidity or if they take any medicine regularly.”
The lack of clarity prompted voices on both the left and the right to claim that the inmates were being “forced” to take coronavirus vaccines. In response, Lula officials issued a statement last week insisting that no vaccine mandate exists for suspected rioters.
In Brazil, significant overlap exists between political conservatives, Bolsonaro supporters, and coronavirus vaccine product skeptics. Bolsonaro regularly promoted the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a preventive and cure for Chinese coronavirus and publicly rejected mask mandates, receiving a fine in 2021 for showing his bare face in Sao Paulo.
“Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing [Chinese coronavirus],” the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asserted in a public alert in 2020.
Bolsonaro did approve, however, the importing of several vaccine products – most controversially, Chinese “vaccines” that Beijing government officials admitted “don’t have very high protection rates” – and maintained that receiving vaccine doses was a personal choice.
The fate of the hundreds in police custody over the riot remains uncertain, as processing their cases individually is likely to be a time-consuming effort. As of Wednesday, Alexandre de Moraes, the top judge on the STF, had personally processed about 200 cases. According to the Brazilian news network Jovem Pan, 60 suspected were released with restrictions such as wearing an electronic anklet, having a night and weekend curfew, and not being able to leave their home states. Another 140 suspects are being placed under “preventative” detention in the name of “public order.” Jovem Pan cited de Moraes as stating that those being kept behind bars are facing accusations of terrorism, staging a coup, and incitement to crime.