Brazilian Journalists suffer judicial harassment after publishing reports on salaries of judges and prosecutors

Update (July 1, 2016): The legal processes and hearings against the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo were temporarily suspended on June 30 by a judge of the Federal Supreme Court, Rosa Weber, according to O Estado de S. Paulo.

In her decision, the judge said that the continuation of the actions results in financial and personal injury to members of the press.

“Considering the number of claims already filed, which exceeds 40, scattered among nineteen cities of Paraná, and in view of the audio content, the right to defense is increasingly becoming compromised because of the risk of financial and personal injury to the plaintiffs who are compelled to move across the state for attendance at hearings,” the judge wrote.

The cases will be suspended until the court considers the merit of the complaint submitted by Gazeta do Povo concerning the number of cases lodged against it. No date has been set.

Original article (June 9, 2016): Brazilian journalists are victims of “judicial harassment” in retaliation for articles published in February of this year that disclosed income of judges and prosecutors in the south Brazilian state of Paraná. Five professionals from the newspaper Gazeta do Povo are the targets of 37 lawsuits for moral damages filed by members of the judiciary. Altogether, the suits total R $1.3 million (about USD $384,000) in damages.

Since they are individual lawsuits filed in different cities, journalists Chico Tides, Euclides Lucas Garcia and Rogério Galindo, in addition to computer graphics artist William Storck and systems analyst Evandro Balmant, have traveled more than 3700 miles to attend hearings.

In an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Rogério Galindo spoke about the negative impacts the journalists have suffered related to their professional schedules.

"Of the five working days next week, we will spend four on the road. They took half of the staff from the politics beat with them,” Galindo said. “There is an orchestration, a willingness not only to get compensation, but to undermine our work, to make us run around the state.”

He said that the hearings became more strained after the newspaper filed a petition to the Supreme Court to try to unify the processes, claiming that the judges would not be impartial to judge the suits of their peers. The request was rejected by Judge Rosa Weber.

The reports of Gazeta do Povo show that each of the judges received, on average, R $ 527,500 (about USD $156,000) in 2015. The newspaper said that the amount is 28 percent above the constitutional ceiling, which states that judges cannot receive more than 90.25 percent of the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court.

In the case of prosecutors, the average income was R $507,000 (about USD $150,000), 23 percent above the ceiling. The report states that more than one third of the amounts referred to aid, compensation and back pay – values unaffected by the constitutional ceiling.

Another report shows that the average gross salary in December 2015 increased by 77.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

The salaries of judges and prosecutors are considered information of public interest and can be accessed by any citizen, according to the National Council of Justice and the National Council of the Prosecutor’s Office. The data are available on the Transparency Portal, maintained by the federal government.

Soon after the release of the reports, Frederico Mendes Júnior, the president of the Association of Judges of Paraná (Amapar for its initials in Portuguese), suggested that judges file individual lawsuits if appropriate, using a petition model created by members for that purpose. The audio of the conversation with the judges was reported by blogger Zé Beto.

In response to the story's from Gazeta, Amapar also issued an explanatory note along with the Paranaense Association of Public Prosecution (APMP) stating that the news contained “distorted and untruthful facts” and that the amounts paid to judges and mentioned in the report were not customary.

“They are, in fact, amounts related to compensations, deriving mainly from vacation or untaken leave or the so-called Autonomous Equivalence Portion, resulting from non-timely payment of amounts due in the past; it is not, therefore, a monthly allowance, subject to the constitutional ceiling,” it said in a statement.

At the time, the paper gave the two associations the right to reply.

These lawsuits against journalists add to the number of cases of censorship and judicial harassment reported previously by the Knight Center blog as well as other entities that fight for freedom of information, such as Reporters without Borders.

On June 6, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) issued a note repudiating the retaliation imposed by the judges and prosecutors.

“The court cases do not seek compensation for damage caused by reports but to intimidate the work of the press, and therefore, are an attack on democracy,” the organization said.

Abraji released a link to the compilation of the news published in February 2016 by Gazeta do Povo and suggested that the reports be shared on social networks using #foraassediojudicial (roughly, down with judicial harassment) in solidarity with the communicators who were sued.

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.