Brazilian Federal Justice Orders Release of 9 Indians in Jail for a Year

Guarani Kaiowá Indians from Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil The nine Guarani-Kaiowá from Passo Piraju who have been in prison in the Brazilian midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul since April 2006 have now been released following a decision of the Court of Appeals (Supremo Tribunal de Justiça, STJ).

The 5th Panel of Judges followed the vote of justice Laurita Vaz and unanimously decided that the murder of two civil police officers by the indigenous people should be judged by a federal court. The case was being prosecuted by a state court until now.

With this decision, the preventive custody decree issued by a state court which kept the indigenous people in prison was annulled. The case will now be referred to a federal court in Dourados, state of Mato Grosso do Sul. 

During the trial, lawyer Paulo Machado Guimarães, who is a legal advisor for the Cimi (Indianist Missionary Council), orally presented the arguments in favor of the Habeas Corpus. The lawyers of the entity are the defense attorneys of the nine indigenous people.

Guimarães defended the competency of federal courts to judge cases involving land disputes and ethnic considerations. His position was supported by an opinion issued by deputy attorney general Maria Eliane Menezes de Farias, who believes that the case should be judged by a federal court and indicated that the preventive custody lacks appropriate grounds.

In her vote, justice Laurita Vaz accepted the arguments of the defense attorneys. The first of them is that the murders in question took place as the indigenous people were trying to defend their land, as they declared themselves.

"The group action resulted from an effort to protect a land area. The scenario shows that the action is closely related to a dispute for the possession of a land area between indigenous people and its owners," Vaz said.

She stressed that the police officers failed to identify themselves as such and, because of the way they were acting, they were mixed up with farmers. "There is an ongoing conflict between indigenous people and farmers in the region arising from a land dispute," the justice said.

"Only a federal court is competent to judge this case. I recognize the absolute incompetence of the state court to judge this case and therefore I am annulling the preventive custody order issued by it, without prejudice to any possible decision of a federal judge in relation to the arrest of the indigenous people," justice Laurita Vaz said as she voted on the Habeas Corpus issued in connection with proceedings 65,898/MS in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 27, in Brasí­lia.

Cimi

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