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Lawyers create Tornavoz nonprofit to defend freedom of expression in Brazil

On March 23, a group of lawyers specialized in the defense of freedom of expression launched the Tornavoz nonprofit, created to guarantee specialized legal defense to journalists and other Brazilian citizens who are targets of lawsuits “due to the exercise of their freedom of expression rights,” as stated in the organization’s website.

Tornavoz also intends to contribute to the development of jurisprudence on the subject in Brazil, participating in strategic processes and awareness-raising actions to promote discussion and appreciation by society of the right to freedom of expression.

One of the founders and directors of Tornavoz is lawyer Taís Gasparian, a specialist in the area of civil law as it relates to media, advertising and the internet. “I have devoted practically my entire professional life to defending journalists, media outlets and digital platforms,” Gasparian told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).

“For some time, I’ve been noticing a more systematic use of the Judiciary to intimidate the press. The litigation itself and the fear of a conviction end up inhibiting independent action by journalists and also by artists, teachers and citizens,” she said.

According to her, having specialized legal support in this area of law “makes all the difference, so that people and small news outlets do not feel intimidated by the process.” However, Gasparian notes that, in Brazil, there is a concentration of lawyers specializing in this subject in the Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo axis, the largest cities in the country and where the main Brazilian media are concentrated.

To combat what she calls “defense deserts,” Tornavoz will pay lawyers who work on cases sponsored by the nonprofit, in addition to providing technical assistance to the defense. The idea is for the remuneration “to strengthen the interest of lawyers in this area of practice,” Gasparian said. "With this, we hope the long-term results of Tornavoz's actions will be lasting: the formation of a network of lawyers with experience in litigation involving freedom of expression and who, in a structured way, fight in its favor," she said.

Requests for Tornavoz support must be made through a form available on the institute's website. According to Gasparian, as the organization’s resources are still scarce, there will be a selection and priority will be given to cases “involving topics linked to historically marginalized groups, such as women, Black people, Indigenous people, LGBTQIA+, who are far from large urban centers, and to news outlets dedicated to such topics or that have local/regional operations,” according to the website.

Tornavoz is a partner of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) in the Legal Protection Program for Journalists, launched in April 2021. The Program offers legal assistance to journalists who, due to their work, are the target of legal proceedings with the purpose of silencing or embarrassing them, or who are being harassed, threatened and persecuted and who want to prosecute the aggressors in civil court. Another Abraji project, Ctrl+X, which monitors lawsuits against journalists, gathered 5,514 lawsuits asking for the removal of journalistic content from the Internet between 2002 and 2021.

Gasparian told LJR that the idea of remunerating lawyers and lawyers working in defense of freedom of expression outside the big urban centers was already a goal of Tornavoz, but participating in the Legal Protection Program for Journalists gave the nonprofit’s team “the conviction that that was the way to go.”

“The cases we analyzed within the Abraji program show the vulnerability of journalists outside the large urban centers and the importance of having legal support. That experience was and continues to be important for structuring the bases of operation for Tornavoz,” she said.

According to the lawyer, “Brazil does not have an effective tradition of protecting freedom of expression – this is a right that is under constant threat and the scenario has worsened in recent years.”

Gasparian added: “Through Tornavoz's actions, we intend to have a specific effect, on the one hand, on each of the lawsuits, but also signal that civil society is paying attention to these types of abuses. Structured litigation in defense of this right, both in individual cases and in strategic cases, is something we believe contributes to the protection of democracy.”

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