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Torture tattoo: teen branded with the words “thief” and “idiot” in Brazil

Two men claim to have taken the law into their own hands after the youngster tried to steal a bicycle

A mother living in the industrial city of São Bernardo do Campo, in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, got a nasty shock when her 17-year-old son, who had gone missing on May 31, appeared in a video that was sent to her cellphone. In the video, her son is seated while a man, a few years older than him and visibly excited, scrapes a tattoo needle across his forehead, telling him: “This is going to hurt, this is going to hurt!”

A photo of the victim on social media.
A photo of the victim on social media.

“What does it say there? What does it say? Tell me,” the man spits out as he finishes. “Thief,” mutters the boy. “No, it’s not just that. What else does it say?” the man insists. “Thief,” replies the boy as if he has not really understood ­– he appears to be slightly dazed. What in fact has been tattooed on his forehead are the words in Portuguese: “I’m a thief and an idiot.”

The police have since arrested the man who tattooed those words, as well as the one who recorded the video, which has since gone viral. The first suspect is Maycon Wesley Carvalho dos Reis, a 27-year-old tattoo artist. The second is his neighbor, Ronildo Moreria de Araújo, a 29-year-old construction worker. They were the ones who originally sent the video to their contacts on WhatsApp.

The video has mobilized public opinion in Brazil due to its violent content

The two men told the police that the 17-year-old had tried to rob a bicycle that morning, and that they were teaching him a lesson. But the judge ruled that they had committed an act of torture and gave orders to keep them in custody. Ironically, the construction worker had been arrested in 2008 for robbing a woman’s handbag and was sentenced to five years and four months behind bars.

The video has mobilized public opinion in Brazil due to its violent content. Meanwhile, the family has told various media outlets that the 17-year-old, who dropped out of school due to an attention deficit disorder, has alcohol and drug problems. He lives with his mother and grandfather, both of whom are unemployed and who struggle to take care of him and his three siblings.

The two men told the police that the 17-year-old had tried to rob a bicycle that morning, and that they were teaching him a lesson

The public outcry enabled the family to be reunited with the victim the following day. “He didn’t come home [after the attack]. He roamed the streets by himself, ashamed and scared,” his uncle Vando Rocha told Buzzfeed Brazil. “He can’t look at himself in the mirror. He’s so ashamed.”

Questioned by the police, the 17-year-old denied attempting to rob the bicycle. He said the two men had also cut his hair so that his forehead would be visible. An online campaign has already raised most of the 20,000 reales – around $6,000 ­– that it will cost to erase the tattoo.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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