RIO DE JANEIRO — The Olympic Games faced a new controversy this weekend — and this time it wasn’t over security, Zika or polluted waters, but censorship.
Twice, spectators were removed from their seats or expelled from stadiums because they called for the ouster of interim President Michel Temer. Videos of both incidents circulated on social media and were widely condemned.
These latest incidences of political unrest at Olympic events followed protests during the Olympic torch’s processions around Rio state and two street demonstrations before Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.
Organizers and government spokesmen said that Rio 2016's regulations, as well as a Brazilian law passed in May, meant that no kind of political demonstration is allowed at the Games. Critics said spectators were being censored — a word that carries bitter connotations in a country that lived under a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
“The Brazilian constitution guarantees freedom of thought and expression,” said Fernando Fernandes, a Rio lawyer who has criticized heavy-handed judicial rulings that in his view infringe on legal rights.
Temer has faced growing dissent since assuming power on May 12 after President Dilma Rousseff was suspended for a controversial impeachment trial. He had just 14 percent approval in a July poll — one point more than Rousseff had in April — and was loudly booed during Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.
Both incidents involving spectators happened Saturday afternoon. In the first, a man was removed from his seat at Rio’s Sambadrome, where archery finals were taking place, by members of Brazil’s National Force — a uniformed agency similar to the National Guard that is providing security within arenas.
The man had held up a piece of paper with the words “Temer out” printed on it but put it away after being warned by National Force agents, his wife told The Washington Post. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she said the family had been frightened by the repercussion the video has caused in Brazil.
An hour later, Pedro Freire, 35, a Rio filmmaker sitting nearby, shouted “Temer out” during a lull between competitions.
“I was filled with patriotic spirit,” Freire said in an interview afterward.
National Force agents returned and took the first man away while he protested loudly. “They took him behind the stands. Then they wanted to expel him,” his wife said. A Rio 2016 official intervened, and the man was allowed to come back and watch the finals on condition that he not repeat the demonstration, his wife said.
Freire filmed the incident and told the National Force agents that he was the one who had shouted “Temer out” — to no avail.
“We are going back to having a bad smell of dictatorship,” Freire said.
The second protest took place while the U.S. women’s soccer team faced France at the Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Shortly before halftime, nine activists stood up and unveiled T-shirts with one letter each, forming the Portuguese phrase “fora Temer” — “Temer out.” And they held up sheets of paper forming the English phrase “Come back democracy.”
They began chanting, and other spectators joined in. “There was a beautiful chant of ‘Temer out’ in the stadium,” said Irlana Cassini, 30, one of two members of an independent media collective called Mídia Ninja who took part in and filmed the protest. Cassini’s 8-year-old daughter was also there. Told to remove their T-shirts or leave, they opted to leave.
“The police said they had filmed us, the face of every person who took part in this act,” said Gabriela de Paula, 23, another member of the Mídia Ninja collective. “We were censored.”
Mario Andrada, Rio 2016’s director of communications, defended the expulsions Sunday.
“It’s not very easy to a young democracy to change presidents. However, the venues need to be clean of political, religious and commercial manifestations because they affect the viewers. They affect TV,” he told reporters Sunday.
Rio 2016’s regulations prohibit any “activity or protest related to unions or political or religious content.”
In May, Rousseff approved an Olympic Law that stipulates that people are allowed to stay in official areas provided they do not “utilize flags for any ends that are not festive or friendly demonstrations.” She herself was booed loudly during the opening game of the 2014 World Cup, which Brazil hosted.
Fernandes, the lawyer, said the clause referred to flags, not pieces of paper. He noted that the same Article 28 of this law reserves the “free exercise of demonstration” and the “full liberty of expression.”
“It is extremely worrying that in Brazil this sort of censorship is happening,” he said.