Article 19 launches campaign to decriminalize defamation in Brazil

Contrary to international conventions on freedom of expression and access to information, defamation cases in Brazil -- a country characterized lately by a high number of judicial cases against the media -- are still resolved in criminal courts. Seeking changes in the penal code, journalism organization Article 19 launched a campaign to decriminalize defamation on Thursday, Nov. 9.

According to the organization, Brazilian law not only allows criminal sanctions that include time in prison, it also considers some opinions defamatory, penalizes declarations on veridical events and protects the reputation of public officials, creating illegitimate restrictions that go against international norms.

“The protection of someone’s reputation in criminal courts is considered a disproportionate measure and a threat to freedom of expression. Procedures to determine the culpability of someone who offended the reputation of another person should be conducted in a civil court,” the organization said.

As part of the campaign, Article 19 released a report that analyzes several sentences from the Supreme Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Justice, Brazil’s top courts, and compares them with some defamation sentences from international courts. The study shows that “in Brazil, the sentences sometimes contradict the spirit of international treaties that recognize the right to freedom of expression.”

Despite the fact that defamation prison sentences are not very common in Brazil, government officials in many Latin American countries use criminal laws to attack journalists who denounce corruption, as it has occurred recently in Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Colombia.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.