Journalist associations in Brazil protest against 'censorship' after Supreme Court ministers ban Lula’s interview with the press

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) and the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) have classified as censorship and a restriction on journalism the decisions of Federal Supreme Court Ministers Luiz Fux and Dias Toffoli, which prohibit former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from granting a press interview from prison.

Fux and Toffoli have revoked the authorization given by Supreme Court Minister Ricardo Lewandowski so that journalist Mônica Bergamo, from Folha de S. Paulo, and journalist Florestan Fernandes Junior, from Rede Minas, could interview the former president in his cell in Curitiba, in the state of Paraná.

"Abraji sees with extreme concern the fact that an order to censure the press and restrict journalistic activity came from the Federal Supreme Court, the maximum guardian of the rights established in the Constitution," the organization wrote in a note. Fenaj said that the STF, "which should ensure compliance with the Brazilian Constitution, attacks the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, by preventing journalists from interviewing the former president."

STF Minister Luiz Fux. (Photo: Rosinei Coutinho/SCO/STF)

Fernandes Junior filed his appeal on Sept. 21 and Folha appealed to the STF on the 27th. The newspaper argued that a decision of the 12th Federal Court in Curitiba that denied permission for Lula to give interviews "imposed censorship on journalistic activity and mitigated freedom of expression, in affront to the previous decision of the Supreme Court," Folha wrote.

On the 28th, Lewandowski issued a merit decision agreeing with the argument that the ban on the interview violates the understanding established by the Supreme Court in ADPF 130, the 2009 decision of the court that overturned the 1967 Press Law, which was created during the military dictatorship. That decision established the unconstitutionality of censorship and affirmed freedoms of the press and of expression in the country.

The minister also said that the Supreme Court, "in countless precedents," guaranteed the right of people guarded by the state to speak to the press, and that "not infrequently, various media interview prisoners throughout the country, without this entailing bigger problems to the prison system," according to the court's website.

However, on the 29th, Minister Luiz Fux revoked the authorization, prohibiting the interview from being conducted and determining that, if it had already been carried out, its disclosure is prohibited.

"The regulation of the free expression of ideas is particularly important in the period leading up to the electoral process, since voter protection against false or imprecise information protects the proper functioning of democracy, equality of chances, morality and legitimacy of the elections," Fux wrote in his decision. "It is in this sense that the exceptional relativization of freedom of the press is necessary in order to guarantee an informational environment free for the conscious exercise of the right to vote."

STF Minister Ricardo Lewandoski. (Photo: Rosinei Coutinho/SCO/STF)

On Oct. 1, Minister Ricardo Lewandowski reaffirmed his decision authorizing the interviews "in order to guarantee to the complainants (journalists) the constitutional right to exercise full freedom of the press as a legal category prohibiting any type of prior censorship, such as the custodian's own right to give interviews to media."

The minister also pointed to procedural flaws in Luiz Fux's decision, such as the lack of legal legitimacy of the New Party, which moved the appeal against the authorization, and the fact that the action was asking for the suspension of the injunction, while the initial dispatch of Lewandowski was not an injunction, but a decision of merit.

On the same day, Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli maintained Fux's decision, reaffirming the prohibition of interviews and determining that his decision be valid until the case is heard in court, Folha reported. According to the newspaper, this should only happen after the second round of the elections, which take place on Oct. 28.

The site Consultor Jurídico heard lawyers who criticized the ban on Lula giving interviews from prison. For Alexandre Fidalgo, a lawyer specializing in press freedom cases, "a judicial decision that denies the exercise of journalistic activity, which prevents a public figure from speaking, constitutes censorship." "We are talking about an inmate who has a leading role in the Brazilian political scene and much of society wants to hear from him, so this can not be constrained, for the good of democracy," he said.

In its note, Abraji appealed to the Supreme Court plenary to reinstate the understanding contained in ADPF 130 "that ‘it is not for the State, by any of its organs, to define in advance what can or can not be said by individuals and journalists’, and that 'government censorship, emanating from any of the three Powers, is the odious expression of the authoritarian face of public power.'"