Protests erupt in Rio de Janeiro after eight-year-old girl 'shot dead by police'

Chris Baynes
Residents of Complexo do Alemao march in protest over the death of eight -year-old Agatha Felix: REUTERS

Protests have erupted in Rio de Janeiro after an eight-year-old girl was allegedly shot dead by police.

Hundreds of demonstrators demanded an end to police violence after Agatha Felix was fatally struck by a stray bullet in one of the city’s favelas on Friday night.

She was travelling with her grandmother in a public minibus when she was shot in the back. She died later in hospital.

Police claimed Agatha had been killed during a shoot-out with criminals, but residents of the Complexo do Alemao district said officers had opened fire on two motorcyclists they suspected were gang members.

"There was no shoot-out," said Renata Trajana. "We know the atrocities that are happening here."

Agatha's grandfather also challenged the police's version of events in an impassioned speech filmed by television cameras outside the hospital where she died.

Ailton Felix said: "What a confrontation? Confrontation with who? Was my granddaughter armed by chance so she could get shot?"

Relatives and friends wear commemorative shirts at the funeral of 8-year-old Agatha Felix (REUTERS)

Agatha was the fifth child killed in Rio’s favelas this year as a result of violence blamed on police. A record 1,249 people died during police operations in the first eight months of 2019.

The city’s hardline governor, Wilson Witzel, has been accused of presiding over an “extermination policy”. The ally of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was elected last year after promising to “slaughter” criminals, a policy legal experts said was tantamount to extrajudicial killings.

As hundreds of people protested on Saturday in the favela where Agatha was killed, the hashtag #aculpaedowitzel – “it’s Witzel’s fault” – began trending in Brazil.

“He is responsible for the murder,” tweeted left-wing politician Guilherme Boulos, a defeated candidate in last year’s presidential election.

Luciano Bandeira, president of the Brazilian Bar Association, told O Globo newspaper: “This is the death of a child whose only sin in her life was being poor. Why is the state security policy an extermination policy?”

He warned more children and innocent people would die unless the governor abandoned his security forces’ shoot-to-kill strategy.

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Police said they would not change the policy, which they insisted was helping to cut the homicide rate after murders hit a record high in Brazil in 2017.

"We will not back down. The state government is on the right track,” military police spokesman Mauro Fliess told Globo TV.

But Pedro Strozenberg, ombudsman of Rio’s Public Defender’s Office, said the policy contravened the “right to life” and did not make the public safer.

“The sense of insecurity remains,” he added. “In the case of the slums, it gets worse.”

Further protests were expected take place after Agatha’s funeral on Sunday.

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