Free Expression Under Attack at the Olympic Games
Freedom of expression was under attack during the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian constitution guarantees free expression. But a law approved in May, termed the Olympic Law, added some restrictions. The Olympic Law banned political demonstrations at any of the Olympic venues and prohibited the use of flags for anything other than festive or friendly displays. The law was created to support the International Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, which states:
No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.
Much of the debate surrounding the law focused on anti‑government slogans on shirts worn by spectators and signs displayed during the events. The majority of the slogans were directed at Brazil’s acting president, Michel Temer, who like many government officials faces public criticism based on allegations of corruption.
During the first few days of the Rio Games, several spectators were asked to either put away or cover the slogans. In some cases, the protesters were forcibly removed from the venue by security. Yet shortly thereafter, Federal Judge João Augusto Carneiro Araújo ruled that the protesters could no longer be forced to leave, saying that not allowing the protesters to wear the shirts or display the signs violated the Brazilian constitution’s guarantee of free expression.
However, Araújo’s ruling did not allow for all types of political protests. While he allowed “people inside the stadiums to demonstrate peacefully through the use of signs or shirts,” he prohibited violent demonstrations or acts that would disrupt the peace. When Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup, a similar measure was taken to prevent protesting. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that free expression is susceptible to at least some restrictions.
In response to the ruling that protesters have the right of free expression, International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Adams said:
I hope everyone understands that the Games should not become a platform for political debate. I think a lot of people appreciate that. But absolutely, we respect the rule of law.