BRAZIL.— Brazilian Judge Patricia Acioli, mother of three, known for her hard-line stance against Rio de Janeiro’s criminal gangs and brutal militias,was murdered on 11 August just outside her house in Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.
Judge Acioli was shot by four hooded gunmen when she pulled up to her home early in the morning. She was shot nearly 21 times at close range as she sat in her vehicle waiting for the garage door to open.
Acioli’s death came just days after she delivered sentences against former policemen who allegedly turned to crime. Throughout her career of almost 20 years, Acioli handed down 60 sentences against policemen and former policemen despite recurring death threats against her.
Along with other judges and prosecutors, Acioli had often received threats from former police officers and criminal gangs. According to investigators, Acioli was on a handwritten death list issued by a leading member of a militia group who was recently arrested in Rio de Janeiro.
Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, explained,”The National Council for Justice has reported at least 69 threatened judges all over the country, while studies from the [Brazilian] justice ministry have reported that more than 90 judges are on a ‘most wanted’ death list.”
Sawei Lai, a public prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro, spent nearly three years being escorted by police security because of his work against gangs and militias in Rio de Janeiro.”We all receive death threats, (The threats) influence us very little. If anything, is makes us more determined to fight for justice,” Sai said.
In a recent interview, Judge Acioli admitted she had been threatened several times but did not take them seriously. Nevertheless, Judge Acioli did hire have bodyguards, they were not however present at the moment of the killing.
Rio de Janeiro Police chief Marta Rocha told reporters that 18 suspects have been named by investigators. The suspects’ names have not been released.
In a written statement, Brazil Supreme Court President Cesar Peluso called the killing “a barbaric act” and a direct attack against the independence of Brazil’s judiciary.
According to investigators, the majority of the bullets used in the killing came from 40-caliber pistols used by civil and military police, and some others came from special-issue Brazilian Armed Forces 45-caliber pistols.
Human Right Watch claims Brazil has a serious problem with police abuse and corruption, “According to official data, police were responsible for 505 killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone in the first six months of 2010.”
“It is high time for the Government to set up a national system of protection in order to allow judges to discharge their functions without fear for their life, integrity and security, and that of their families,” Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers said.
Meanwhile, residents of Niteroi hung black protest banners on the beach near Acioli’s home to protest her death. The banners read, “Who Silenced the Voice of Justice?”