Seven MST activists, held in custody for more than six months in the Brazilian state of Parana, have been released by a judicial decision published Wednesday afternoon.
Fabiana Braga, Claudiri Lima, Claudir Braga, Antonio Ferreira, Daniel de Almeida, Tiago Ferreira and Valdir Camargo have been incarcerated since Nov. 4, 2016. Authorities claim that they were charged with forming community militias in encampments in the Queda do Iguazu region of Parana.
All are members of the Rural Landless Workers Movement, know by its Portugese initals MST, who live in an encampment called Dom Tomas Balduino. The charges resulted from investigations conducted by Brazil's civil police force called Operation Castra.
Ana Paula Angelo, the criminal law judge in the Iguazu District who ordered the release of the MST members, based her decision on the excess of time that they've been imprisoned and that they were arrested without evidence. The judge determined that once the detainees were released, cautionary measures be imposed, including monthly court attendance.
"The fact that people are MST members and fight for agrarian reform cannot be used as a basis for pre-trial detention," said Fernando Prioste, a progressive lawyer who assisted the imprisoned MST members. According to Prioste pre-trial detention should be the last measure implemented since prisons are intended for convicted felons.
Human rights organizations have criticized Operation Castra as an attempt to criminalize social movements. The operation gained public notoriety after police forces violently invaded MST's national school, Florestan Fernandes, in Guararema in the state of Sao Paulo.
The Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders released a statement declaring that preemptive imprisonment is nothing more than retaliation for the political actions of social movements. "The accusation against MST is linked to the landless identity, to acting as defenders of human rights," it read.
The arrest of Fabiana Braga generated huge public outrage, so much so that a number of federal senators and deputies expressed solidarity with the young woman, calling for her release.
For years MST has demanded that land illegally settled by Araupel, a logging corporation, and River Snakes and Pinhal Ralo Farms be slated under Brazil's agrarian reform program. In 2015, Brazil's federal court ruled that the property titles belonging to River of Snakes Farm are null and void.
According to Brasil de Fato, some 3,000 families currently occupy land pertaining to River of Snakes and Pinhal Ralo Farms. The collective occupation is divided into four encampments: Dom Tomas Balduino, Heirs of the Earth of May 1, Vilmar Bordim and Leonir Orback.
Violence has also erupted in the region in question. In April 2016, two MST members were assassinated by Parana's military police.