Judge exempts police from responsibility for blinding Brazilian photographer, says it was journalist’s own fault

In a decision that has been heavily criticized by organizations defending freedom of the press, Brazilian courts determined that a photographer was responsible for being hit by a rubber bullet during the country’s protests in 2013.

Sérgio Silva was hit in the left eye on June 13, 2013 and subsequently lost sight in that eye. That same day, at least six other reporters were hit by rubber bullets, including journalist Giuliana Vallone of TV Folha, who was also wounded on her face.

Silva filed suit against São Paulo state in 2013.

Judge Olavo Zampol Júnior denied Silva’s request for compensation against the state and said that “to put oneself in the line of fire between police and protesters, [the photojournalist] voluntarily and consciously assumed the risk of being targeted by some of the groups in the confrontation,” according to site Consultor Jurídico. Silva will also have to pay $2,000 Reais (about USD $624.20) for the cost of the proceedings.

The photographer posted a video on Facebook repudiating the ruling.

He stressed that the military police acknowledged having fired more than 500 rubber bullets against demonstrators and journalists covering the protests against the increases in bus fares in São Paulo.

“I’m not the only victim of that event in which police forces besieged the city. More than a hundred people were injured and another two hundred were arrested,” he said in the video.

He also recalled that this was not the first time that the judicial system absolved the state of São Paulo of responsibility in cases of violence against media professionals. In 2014, Alex Silveira was also found responsible of losing 80 percent of vision in his left eye after being hit by a rubber bullet while covering a demonstration by teachers in July 2000.

Silva said that the decision “is another shameful episode of judicial violence against the victims of the military police.”

He also started a petition on social networks so that internet users can express solidarity with him and protest the court decision.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) called the court decision “deplorable,” and said that 61 percent of the 98 cases of police abuse against media professionals in São Paulo during the 2013 protests were intentional.

“It is deplorable that the São Paulo judiciary chooses for impunity of security agents who attack journalists,” Abraji said. “Blaming the photographer for being blinded is the same as saying that the victim of an assault deserved to be robbed or a woman, raped -- apart from the obvious threat to freedom of expression. Abraji hopes that this error is corrected in higher courts.”

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.