Brazil has not permitted citizens to kill bike-riding muggers
False news circulated in Pakistan in a bid to curb street crime
Claim: The Government of Brazil has permitted its citizens to start killing bike-riding muggers in a bid to bring down street crime.
Fact: There is no such law in Brazil. The video accompanying the viral claim comprises footage of different incidents where citizens either acted in self-defence or helped fellow citizens during muggings; however, they are not related to or carried out by any Brazilian law.
On 29 September 2022, Soch Fact Check received a WhatsApp ‘forward’ suggesting that Pakistanis should start killing muggers in a bid to bring down street crime after the Government of Brazil permitted its citizens to do the same.
The text of the WhatsApp ‘forward’ is reproduced below:
“After the Brazilian government permitted the killing of motorcycle riders that rob citizens in order to try to put an end to it
That’s how crime is stopped as police can’t control every corner.
Drastic but effective 👇”
The WhatsApp ‘forward’ was accompanied by a video comprising CCTV footage of five mugging incidents, claimed to be from Brazil and allegedly supporting the argument that the Government of Brazil has permitted its citizens to kill robbers on bikes.
Fact or Fiction?
Soch Fact Check investigated the claim by speaking to fellow fact-checkers in Brazil, as well as using reverse image search tools to ascertain the source of the CCTV footage of five mugging incidents.
Ana Rita Cunha, the director of Strategy and Communities at Aos Fatos, a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), told Soch Fact Check that “there is no law that ‘permits’ killing thieves on bikes” in Brazil.
Homicide, or killing of a person, is not considered a crime only when it is in “legitimate self-defence” and there is no penalty for it in the Brazilian Penal Code; however, “a person could be punished if he or she has a disproportionate reaction to aggression”, Cunha added.
She further said the only change in the articles that deal with legitimate self-defence in the Brazilian Penal Code, which is from 1940, “occurred in 1984 and there is no current change in the legislation on that subject and the law does not mention any ‘thieves on bikes’ exception”.
Chico Marés, Head of Journalism at Lupa, also an IFCN signatory, told Soch Fact Check, “The Brazilian government does not permit the killing of motorcycle riders that rob citizens.
“Death penalty is unconstitutional in Brazil and this has not changed since our latest Constitution has been [sic] published in 1988, so not even the state — nevermind ordinary citizens — is allowed to take someone else’s life for robbery,” Marés said.
Marés seconded Cunha’s comment about killing in self defence. “Also, it’s not a crime if a police officer kills someone in “strict adherence to the law”, which means if he’s caught in a situation where criminals are trying to shoot him, or something like that, he should not be prosecuted,” he added.
Marés explained that President Jair Bolsonaro’s government tried to change the aforementioned provision in early 2019 to “make it harder for the criminal justice to prosecute police officers for murder (police executions and other malpractices are, unfortunately, relatively common in Brazil, and apparently Bolsonaro wanted it to get even worse)” but the Congress did not approve the move.
With regard to the video, it comprises CCTV footage from at least five different incidents.
Cunha of Aos Fatos identified the first part of the footage as that of an incident from Ecuador, which was reported on by the Peruvian newspaper La República. The publication’s 20 March 2022 report carries the headline, “Woman runs over two alleged criminals aboard a motorcycle who wanted to assault her,” and states that the events occurred in the city of Milagro.
Soch Fact Check also found this tweet from 13 March 2022, which contains the uncropped video (wider lens), showing the timestamp to be 7:49 pm on 11 March 2022.
However, Taiwan FactCheck Center — which is IFCN-accredited — and China Fact Check flagged the incident as one from Brazil. According to Giro S/A, the footage was captured at Avenida Santo Antônio in Bela Vista, Osasco municipality of Brazil’s São Paulo city. It was also posted by Instagram account @osasconoticias, which posts news and updates from the same municipality.
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Giro S/A also mentioned in its report that it obtained the security camera footage and the Military Police’s (PM) viewpoint, stating that “members of the Tactical Force of the 14th Metropolitan Battalion were on patrol in the region when they were called to respond to an incident in which two suspects were robbing drivers and pedestrians”.
The second piece of footage has been circulating on the Internet since at least 30 November 2020; the date in the timestamp portion is 26 November 2020. We discovered through the help of Taiwan FactCheck Center that g1 — a Brazilian news portal by Grupo Globo — had published a report, which included a news bulletin with the following tickers:
“Suspeito atropelado em tentativa de assalto
Polícia tenta identificar os criminosos
[Suspect hit by car in attempted robbery
Police try to identify criminals]”
The g1 report states, “Two criminals were run over on Thursday night (26) after trying to rob drivers in the Jangurussu neighborhood, in Fortaleza. All the action was recorded by security cameras. The man who was run over has not been identified and there is no information about his health status.
“The Secretariat of Public Security reported in a note that the 30th Police District, in the São Cristóvão neighborhood, is investigating the incident. The Civil Police have the images of the security cameras, which will help to identify those involved,” it adds.
Soch Fact Check found conflicting reports about this incident. Ahora Mar Del Plata — an Argentinian news outlet focused on Mar Del Plata, a city in the country’s Buenos Aires Province — reported on 3 July 2021 that an off-duty federal police officer “killed one of the two criminals who tried to steal his car” in the Ingeniero Budge municipality in Lomas de Zamora.
“Judicial sources indicated that the Lomas de Zamora Prosecutor’s Office 6, in charge of the investigation, will not resolve the situation of the policeman until the autopsy of the deceased is completed, in the case labeled ‘Homicide on the occasion of robbery,’” the publication wrote, adding a tweet from a now-suspended account that said two motorcycles approached a “police officer who was in his car with his 11-year-old daughter”.
However, Brazilian news outlet ABCD Jornal reported on 2 July 2021 that the incident — involving a Military Police (PM) officer — occurred on Rua Professor Cardozo de Melo Neto in the Pedreira municipality near the border of São Paulo and Diadema. The cop was in an Uber and fired six times, with one of the suspects admitted to the Piraporinha Hospital’s emergency room.
YouTube channel GCM EM FOCO TV — which says it is “Your Municipal Guard’s News Channel” in its ‘About’ section — posted a video titled, ‘Military policeman reacts to robbery attempt inside Uber,’ in which the timestamp shows the date as 1 July 2021.
The fourth incident, too, is from Brazil and the Daily Mail reported on it on 4 October 2021, with the headline, “SUV driver rams motorbike robbers as they hold up couple on a street in Brazil leaving one with a broken leg – before police arrest suspect in hospital.”
The incident occurred in the Campo Limpo area of São Paulo and the publication quoted g1 of Brazil as saying, “One suspect was arrested after admitting himself to the Campo Limpo Hospital with a broken leg”.
Soch Fact Check used relevant search terms alongside “g1” and found the Brazilian news portal’s report, which states that the road the robbery attempt was foiled at is Rua Januário Zíngaro. “The two robbers fled, but the motorcycle rider was arrested in the act, shortly thereafter, at the emergency room of the Hospital do Campo Limpo, with a broken leg,” g1 wrote.
Soch Fact Check found multiple reports on the fifth incident, with a 15 February 2022 report by Noticieros Televisa stating, “In Brazil, two criminals were thrown into the air after being run over by the driver of a vehicle that witnessed the assault. The moment was caught on video. […] In the last few hours, the video of an assault recorded on the night of February 12 has been circulating on social networks.”
The publication included a tweet by @PoliciaPenalSp, which shows that the incident occurred at 11:21 pm.
Other outlets that reported on the incident and with which we matched our investigation include g1, Diário de S. Paulo, SBT News, Metropoles, and Record TV. Reports from these outlets mentioned that the footage shows pedestrians waiting at a bus stop on Rua Vieira Portuense in Jabaquara in the South Zone of São Paulo and that the criminals — aged 26 and 29 — were arrested, according to the State Secretariat for Public Security (SSP).
On a related note, some social media posts also suggested that a bill submitted by Brazilian politician Talíria Petrone was aimed at legalising theft or mugging as a profession.
However, that is incorrect as IFCN signatory Reuters Fact Check found in a 28 July 2022 report that the draft legislation was focused on doing away with prison sentences for thefts carried out due to extreme poverty and those where the value of stolen materials was insignificant; instead, the punishment would be through other legal mechanisms.
Brazil’s UOL Confere, another IFCN signatory, also debunked claims about the bill by Petrone, who is associated with the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL), or the Socialism and Liberty Party.
Conclusion: There is no such law in Brazil. The video accompanying the viral claim comprises footage of different incidents where citizens either acted in self-defence or helped fellow citizens during muggings; however, they are not related to or carried out by any Brazilian law.
Background image in cover photo: Angelina