On World Press Freedom Day, celebrated May 3, Brazilian journalists were attacked, insulted and expelled from a Brasilia demonstration in favor of the Jair Bolsonaro government and against Congress and the Federal Supreme Court.
Journalists were covering the event, which was attended by the president, when they were attacked by protesters.
The photographer for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, Dida Sampaio, was knocked off a small ladder, which he used to take photos of Bolsonaro, as reported by his publication and others. He fell to the ground, hit his head and was surrounded by supporters of the president, who beat him with punches, kicks and slaps, it added. Protesters shouted "out Estadão" and "garbage." The newspaper published a sequence of photos of the attack. The photographer has worked at Estadão since 1994 and has won two Esso awards and three Vladimir Herzog awards.
A driver for the newspaper, Marcos Pereira, who was with the team, was also attacked with a blow to the calf. Folha de S. Paulo reporter Fábio Pupo was pushed and insulted when trying to defend Sampaio, according to several outlets, including Estadão. Nivaldo Carboni, a reporter for Poder360 who also covered the event, was kicked and was harassed several times, according to his publication.
Photographer Orlando Brito, 70, also tried to defend his colleague and was attacked, as Poder 360 reported. “I went to help Dida and they ended up seizing me. They hit me and my glasses flew away. They stepped on the glasses. They tried to take one of my cameras to break it. ‘Break, break!’. I said: 'No, my brother.’ Anyway, I managed to escape,” Brito said, according to Poder360. Brito is "one of the most prominent and awarded photojournalists in the country," the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) reported.
"With 54 years of experience in various outlets in the country, reporting some of the most important episodes of Brazilian politics, including the period of the military dictatorship, Brito covered the event...for the website Os Divergentes,” the association wrote in a release.
Some of the journalists had to be escorted and removed from the demonstration in a Military Police vehicle. Even so, the protesters did not calm down and hit the car windows, according to Abraji. After the attack, Sampaio submitted a police report. Reporters Júlia Lindner and André Borges, from Estadão, who covered the demonstration from another point, were insulted, according to the newspaper.
Estadão published a note repudiating the incident, calling the attack "cowardly aggression against the newspaper, the press and democracy.”
"Violence, even coming from the bowels of power, never intimidated us. It only encourages us to continue denouncing the acts of a government that, elected in a democratic process, less than a year and a half later shows all the signs of deviating toward arbitrariness and violence,” it wrote.
Estadão asked that the aggressions be investigated by "independent public agents, not linked to the federal authorities who, through action and omission, were accomplices to the ongoing process of sabotaging the democratic regime.”
At the time of the demonstration, a few meters away from the attacked journalists, Bolsonaro was alerted by an aide that representatives of the press were being expelled, according to images from his own live broadcast on social media. The president did not reprimand the attacks and reinforced the criticism. "People from Globo come here to catch one guy or another to talk nonsense. This TV really went too far," he said.
After criticism, however, Bolsonaro condemned the attacks. The following day, May 4, he spoke out on the matter, but questioned the aggression and attributed the violence to infiltrators in the protest. He also took the opportunity to again criticize the space given to the issue by the TV Globo program, Fantástico, as published by Estadão and Folha.
"You saw that Fantástico gave a lot of space to criticize me. There could have been an aggression there. There could have been, I don't know. We condemn any aggression," Bolsonaro said. "I didn't see anything, I was inside the Palace, I was on the ramp, I didn't see. We condemn any aggression that happened. If there was aggression, someone who infiltrated, some crazy person, must be punished. There is no aggression on our part. Now, booing, this is normal for democracy," he said.
Also on May 4, the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, sent a letter to the Public Ministry of the Federal District asking that the aggressions be investigated, according to G1.
Associations and authorities repudiate attacks
Abraji and the National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) condemned the attacks and asked the authorities to identify and punish the attackers.
"In addition to cowardly attacking the physical integrity of those who exercised their profession, the aggressors directly attacked the very freedom of the press. To attack the free exercise of journalistic activity is also to hurt the right of citizens to be freely informed," ANJ wrote.
Abraji said the aggressions are the result of Bolsonaro's posture. "Such events demonstrate the increasing risk to which the belligerent and outrageous speech of the President of the Republic exposes Brazilian reporters," the association wrote in a joint note with the Press Freedom Observatory of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB).
The entities also recalled that journalists were the target of supporters of the president on May 2 during the coverage of demonstrations in Curitiba, when ex-minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro, went to testify at the Federal Police. At the time, a protester pushed the equipment of a cameraman from the affiliate of TV Record in Curitiba (RICTV) and tried to hit him in the face, but he was restrained, as reported by many outlets, including UOL.
Episodes of violence were also recorded on the Labor Day holiday, May 1, in Brasilia. Supporters of the president tried to attack reporting teams covering a protest by nurses, according to the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj).
Abraji said journalists were also attacked by militants who support Bolsonaro on April 19 in at least three cities. The association said elected officials and public servants are damaging press freedom, which is "a serious risk to democracy.”
"Such aggressions are encouraged by the behavior and speech of President Jair Bolsonaro. His attacks on the media, conspiracy theories and offensive behavior foster a climate of hostility against the press, in addition to serving as an example and legitimizing the criminal behavior of his supporters. It is unacceptable for militants favorable to the government to take to the streets with the express aim of intimidating press professionals,” the Abraji note said.
The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, published on his Twitter account that Brazil is fighting against the coronavirus and the "virus of extremism." "Yesterday nurses were threatened. Today journalists were attacked. Tomorrow anyone who opposes their worldview. It is up to democratic institutions to impose legal order on this group that confuses politics with spreading terror," he said.
Supreme Federal Court ministers Alexandre de Moraes, Cármen Lúcia and Gilmar Mendes also spoke out in defense of press freedom. "Aggressions against journalists must be repudiated for the cowardice of the act and the injury to Democracy and the Rule of Law, and cannot be tolerated by the Institutions and by Society," Moraes wrote via Twitter. Lúcia said that the aggressions were "unacceptable" and that "those who like dictatorship like silence,” according to Epoca.
The vice-president of the Republic, Hamilton Mourão, said the attacks were "cowardice." "I am against any kind of cowardice and attacking those who are doing their work is not part of my culture," he told Folha de S.Paulo.
On May 4, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva published a note condemning the attacks. "Freedom of expression is a fundamental requirement of a democratic country. However, any aggression against media professionals is unacceptable," he said.