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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a military ceremony in Brasilia on Dec. 13, 2019.

Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has granted a Christmas pardon to police officers convicted of involuntary crimes, according to an item in the country’s official gazette published Tuesday.

The pardon applies to police who acted in self-defence or out of necessity, for example if while doing so they accidentally killed a bystander.

It benefits those who have served at least one-sixth of their sentence, and includes police if they took action while off-duty to eliminate risks to themselves or others.

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Bolsonaro, who was elected on a law-and-order platform, has pledged to defend cops and said those who shoot criminals should be given medals rather than face legal processes. However, he also said repeatedly before taking office that his administration wouldn’t offer any pardons. Earlier this month he announced his intention to pardon cops.

The decision is controversial given that extrajudicial killings by Brazilian police have sometimes been wrongly classified as acts of self-defence.

The number of police who will benefit is likely to be small, as few are ever convicted of manslaughter, according to Arthur Trindade, a board member of non-profit Brazilian Public Security Forum.

“This isn’t a question of doing justice for these professionals,” said Trindade, a sociology professor at the University of Brasilia. “It’s an enormous political message of support for the police groups and for inordinate use of force.” The presidential press office didn’t respond to a request for information regarding the number of convicted police officers who stand to be pardoned.

“The decree innovates by granting a pardon to those who dedicate their lives to safeguarding society,” the press office said in its statement.

Additionally, Bolsonaro pardoned convicts who are gravely ill or have some irreversible medical conditions like paraplegia or blindness.

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