Brazil’s courts and laws still haven’t caught up with 27 years of democracy and free speech.
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas spotlighted the latest case.
The courts have become the greatest hurdle to freedom of expression in Brazil, according to international groups like Inter American Press Association and Freedom House. If judicial offensives are a hurdle for large media organizations, any participation in the political sphere by small websites and blogs can be a death sentence. Without the means to shoulder the costs of judicial representation, bloggers can end up bankrupt and forced to close their operation.
Journalist Fábio Pannunzio started a blog and it drew some serious attention:
It wasn’t just a blog for self-reflection, I liked putting stuff there that shook things up. The blog denounced a gang of human traffickers operating in Paraná and countries like the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and the United States. The gang was the first to try and censor the blog. They got a court order to take down the posts about the case. While the judge was reviewing the appeal, the gang was arrested. But even then they brought another suit against me for moral damages. So those were the first two lawsuits.
That bears repeating: A gang got a court to order the posts about the gang’s case taken down. Even after the gang was arrested, it filed another another suit against for moral damages. And the courts went along with it.
The gang in Paraná that I denounced requested the judge to “make an example” out of me. The objective is not the money, it’s really to strangle [our voice]. They know they are going to lose but the kind of people I denounce on my blog are used to the legal framework and it’s no trouble for them to start proceedings against someone. It’s very easy for them to accuse.
The law is so convoluted that anyone writing about the defendants in a public trial can be sued for libel in the criminal courts if the writer mentions anything bad about the defendants.
The heartening thing, however, is the hard work of Brazilian journalists and bloggers and their willingness to fight for press and speech freedoms despite laws that were written in the days of the dictatorship.