View of Brazil's high court during the opening trials over the January 8 riots by former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's supporters in Brasilia

Brasília (AFP) - In the first verdict over the riots by supporters of Brazil’s far-right ex-President Jair Bolsonaro, the Supreme Court sentenced a defendant Thursday to 17 years in prison on charges including an attempted coup.

After a trial that began only Wednesday, the court’s 11 justices ruled unanimously to convict 51-year-old Aecio Pereira, with a majority finding him guilty on all five charges he faced for invading the Congress building on January 8.

Overwhelming security, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters also stormed the presidential palace and the high court itself that day, trashing the seat of power in Brasilia as they called on the military to oust leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“The (rioters’) objective was to violently seize Brasilia and spread a criminal attack against the rule of law across the country,” Justice Cristiano Zanin said Thursday in delivering his ruling.

The riots deeply shook a nation still divided by Lula’s narrow win over Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October 2022 presidential race, and drew inevitable comparisons to the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by supporters of then-president Donald Trump – Bolsonaro’s political role model.

Pereira, who denied wrongdoing, made an obscenity-laced cell-phone video of himself at the Senate president’s table during the invasion, wearing a T-shirt marked “Military Intervention” and urging fellow Bolsonaro supporters to “take to the streets.”

Eight of the court’s judges ruled to convict him on all five charges he faced: violent uprising against the rule of law, attempted coup, armed criminal conspiracy, damaging a national heritage site and aggravated property destruction.

Three ruled to convict him on only some of the charges, with a lighter jail term than the 17 years he was ultimately sentenced to.

- First of hundreds -

Lawyers for Pereira, reportedly a former employee of the Sao Paulo municipal sanitation company, told the court their client was unarmed and committed no acts of violence.

Defense attorney Sebastiao Coelho da Silva called the trial “politically motivated.”

Pereira was the first to be tried over the riots, in an initial batch of four cases before the Supreme Court.

Each of the defendants face a total of up to 30 years in prison.

The second trial opened Thursday after a brief recess.

A lawyer for the defendant, 43-year-old Thiago Mathar, told the court his client had only entered the presidential palace seeking shelter when clashes broke out between protesters and police.

“He wanted a better country, he wasn’t there to cause trouble,” he said.

But 10 justices ruled to find Mathar guilty, with lead judge Alexandre de Moraes recommending a 14-year prison sentence.

The court adjourned the trial pending the remaining justice’s ruling. But a guilty verdict is certain, with only a majority needed to convict.

Moraes said investigators had identified Mathar in security camera footage that showed him “blatantly coming out of the office of the president of the republic.”

“The defendant… came here to participate in a coup, to overthrow a democratically elected government,” he said in his ruling.

- First of hundreds -

In all, the high court plans to hear 232 cases involving the most serious alleged crimes committed during the riots.

Prosecutors are also investigating more than 1,000 others over the attacks, mostly on lesser charges that could be settled in plea bargains.

Investigators are also working to trace the financial backers behind the protests and establish whether police and army officers played a role. Seven Brasilia police commanders were arrested last month for dereliction of duty in connection with the riots.

Bolsonaro, who was in the United States at the time, faces investigation over accusations of inciting the riots.

The 68-year-old ex-army captain is also under investigation over various allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

In June, electoral authorities barred him from running for office for eight years over his unproven allegations that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to large-scale fraud.

Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing.

“Some people are obsessed with trying to link me” to the events of January 8, he told newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Monday.