Olympic organisers appealed on Tuesday against a Brazilian judge’s decision to allow spectators to display political banners inside Games’ venues, fuelling a debate over free speech and the right to protest in the divided South American nation.
The federal judge in Rio de Janeiro issued the injunction late on Monday, overruling a government ban on political slogans during the Games provided that the demonstrations were “peaceful”.
Many Brazilians reacted angrily to images of security guards expelling protesters with banners against interim President Michel Temer from Olympic venues in recent days.
Many people tweeted that conservative Temer, who took office when left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff was suspended on charges of breaking budget rules, deserved a “gold medal for repression”.
Judge Joao Augusto Carneiro Araújo issued the injunction following a request by federal prosecutors, who questioned the ban decided by the governments of Brazil and Rio state and the Rio 2016 organising committee.
The prosecutors said the ban infringed constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. Any appeal against the injunction could end up in the Supreme Court, being a constitutional issue.
A spokesman for the Rio 2016 organising committee said it was notified of the judicial order on Tuesday and had immediately petitioned the judge to reconsider. In the meantime, it would respect the ruling.
“We believe that sports venues are not the place for political, religious or racial protests,” Mario Andrada told a news conference. He said the same issue arose during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the ban on political banners had been upheld.
Protesters carrying “Temer Out” signs and T-shirts were once again seen in several stadiums on Tuesday. In the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia a steward could be seen tearing a banner from the hands of an opposition protester, in apparent defiance of the injunction.
Brazil is hosting South America’s first Games amid a political crisis that has opened deep fissures in the nation of 200 million people.
The ruling came as Brazil’s Senate opened a debate on Tuesday whether to formally indict Rousseff. With Temer’s coalition pushing for her dismissal, the Senate is expected to remove Rousseff, who was suspended in May, from office this month.
Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing and her supporters accuse Temer of staging an undemocratic “coup”.
Speaking in her defence, Workers Party Senator Regina Sousa denounced the curtailment of freedom of expression at the Games.
“To drag away people carrying ‘Out with Temer’ signs on A4 paper or T-shirts is the clearest example of the police state that this country is becoming,” Sousa told the Senate.
A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pointed out that the Olympic charter forbids political propaganda within venues, as well as any kind of religious or racial messages.
“We hope that everyone understands that this is a global event and the Games should not become a platform for political debate,” said Mark Adams, IOC director of communications.
The impeachment of Rousseff has paralysed Brazilian politics since the start of the year, deepening a crisis set off by a huge kickback and bribery scandal at state-led oil company Petrobras.