Journalists under assault in Brazil with judicial harassment, smear campaigns and vilification

Peaceful Assembly

Excessive force used against protesters

On 16th January 2020, a demonstration against public transport tariff increases organised by Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) was repressed by the military police in São Paulo. The police forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters, saying that the demonstration had not been authorised by the government. There were also reports of officers beating protesters and at least one photojournalist. A video shows that officers dragged some protesters on the ground when detaining them, including pulling a woman by the hair. Two other protests organised by the same movement in January 2020 were also dispersed by police using tear gas. In one of those demonstrations, police also detained over 30 protesters.

Landless Women occupy Brasilia

On 9th March 2020, around 3,500 women of the Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers Movement - MST) occupied the headquarters of the Agriculture Ministry in Brasília. During the protest, the workers denounced the distribution of individual titles for plots of land assigned for agrarian reform and condemned cuts in public investment and the unchecked release of pesticides by the Bolsonaro government. The protest was part of a five-day event, the 1st National Landless Women's Meeting, where landless women from settlements and camps from 24 Brazilian states participated in debates and workshops on topics like agricultural production, combating violence, economic autonomy for women and territorial resistance.


Police prevent journalists from covering protests in Sao Paulo

On 7th January 2020, military police officers detained Rodrigo Zaim, a freelance photojournalist and member of the independent media group RUA, while he was covering protests against bus fare increases in São Paulo. On the same day, a reporter with online news outlet A Ponte, Daniel Arroyo, was beaten during a crackdown on protesters at a subway station. Arroyo told the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) that he and other journalists beaten were wearing credentials that clearly identified them as members of the press.

According to A Ponte, in a protest two days later photographer Daniel Teixeira, of the Estado de São Paulo newspaper, was beaten by an officer while another journalist was hit on the back with a tear gas grenade. The outlet also reported that the military police stopped and searched Arthur Stabile, a photojournalist in their team, and Lucas Martins, a photographer with the independent media group Jornalistas Livres. In yet another protest against tariff increases on 16th January 2020, Daniel Arroyo was hit in the knee with a rubber bullet.

Brazilian journalist murdered in Paraguayan bordertown

On 12th February 2020, Brazilian journalist Lourenço "Léo" Veras was shot and killed at his home in Pedro Juan Caballero, a city on the border with Brazil. Veras was an editor of digital news outlet Porã News, which publishes information on organised crime and corruption in the region. According to news sources, the journalist was executed with around 12 shots fired by three gunmen who invaded his home while he was having dinner with his family. Veras had received death threats in the previous months and local police stated that the killing could be a reprisal for his reporting.

At the beginning of the year, on 19th January 2020, 75 prisoners broke out of the regional penitentiary in Pedro Juan Caballero. Many of the them were linked to the Brazilian criminal faction PCC (First Command of the Capital).

Attacks against women journalists

On 18th February 2020, politicians connected to Jair Bolsonaro’s government voiced insults of a sexual nature against Folha de S. Paulo journalist Patrícia Campos Mello in the context of congressional hearings on fake news in the 2018 presidential campaign. In October 2018, during the electoral campaign, the journalist reported on an online disinformation campaign allegedly funded illegally by business owners supporting Bolsonaro. At the time, the newspaper and Patrícia Campos Mello faced a backlash, with the journalist receiving several threats and insults for her reporting. The scandal led to a Joint Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to investigate these claims.

On 11th February 2020, an employee of a digital marketing company allegedly hired to spread smear messages during presidential elections testified that Campos Mello tried to extract information from him in exchange for sexual favours. Several politicians, including Bolsonaro’s son, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, and two other congressmen, Carlos Jordy and Filipe Barros, shared and repeated the allegations on Twitter. The president also commented on the case with sexual innuendo. Folha de S. Paulo subsequently denied these claims, publishing messages showing that the witness had lied and that he had willingly shared information and documents with the journalist. After the testimony, Mello received hundreds of harassing messages, and dozens of memes featuring her photo circulated on social media, many containing sexual language.

In a separate case, journalist Vera Magalhães of TV Cultura and O Estado de S. Paulo was targeted by Bolsonaro and his supporters after revealing on 25th February that the president had shared a video encouraging participation in demonstrations against the National Congress on WhatsApp. This endorsement of apparent anti-democratic mobilisations sparked criticism from politicians from the right, centre and left. Following the report, Vera Magalhães said she faced a wave of harassing and misogynistic messages on social media – in particular after president Bolsonaro accused her of spreading fake news. In addition, a false social media account exposed fraudulent and private information on the journalist, including the school where her children study.

This type of doxxing (also sometimes called “doxing”) is a tactic used to intimidate and discredit. A report published by the Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI) on violence against women journalists in Brazil, identified 20 attacks on Brazilian women journalists between January 2019 and February 2020, including misogynistic and sexist offences, smear campaigns and disclosure of personal information. Of the 17 cases recorded in 2019, 13 were carried out by members of the federal and state congress, ministers and President Bolsonaro himself. 84% of the journalists interviewed in the study also said they had faced gender-based violence at work.

Glenn Greenwald case

On 21st January 2020, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office presented a complaint against U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald for criminal association, accusing him of having aided the unlawful interception of communications. Greenwald is the co-founder of The Intercept Brasil, which has led the reporting series Vaza Jato claiming that members of Brazil's justice system abused their authority during Operation Car Wash investigations and trials. The news reports were largely based on private messages between authorities, which were allegedly obtained through hacking. The accusation against Greenwald was considered controversial by legal experts, as the police had concluded there was no evidence to indicate that the journalist had participated in criminal activities.

More than 40 organisations from Brazil and around the world sent an open letter to the Brazilian authorities condemning the charges, saying that this was a "straightforward attempt to intimidate and retaliate against Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil for their critical reporting". On 6th February 2020, a judge decided to reject the complaint at this time.

Civil society denounces the Brazilian government at international body meetings

On 10th March 2020, several civil society organisations denounced the Brazilian government at the 43rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The joint statement presented by Abraji, Conectas, Instituto Vladimir Herzog and Intervozes stressed that president Bolsonaro had systematically attacked journalists and developed a hostile relationship with the media, treating them as enemies.

On 16th March 2020, 17 Brazilian civil society organisations denounced the Bolsonaro government in a public hearing at the 175th meeting of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), held in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The organisations highlighted systematic violations of freedom of expression in the country, attacks on the press, censorship of artistic and cultural freedom, stifling of social participation spaces and access to public information. This was the first time the IACHR had held such an event on freedom of expression in Brazil. “The decision to hold this hearing is a highly symbolic recognition by the OAS of the profound degradation in freedom of expression in Brazil,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Latin America bureau.

Representatives of the IACHR expressed concern with the Brazilian scenario. However, at the hearing the Brazilian government failed to address the issues brought forward, denying some accusations and emphasising the country’s existing constitutional guarantees and legal framework for the protection of human rights.

Online attacks against media

Research showed that in 2019 professional media in Brazil faced almost 11,000 daily attacks through social media, the equivalent of seven attacks a minute. While these originated from users across the political spectrum, the majority of the anti-press posts came from profiles associated with conservative political views. On president Bolsonaro’s Twitter profile, 432 out of 5,708 publications contained criticism, warnings or innuendo related to press or media professionals. The analysis was carried out by Bites, a digital data consultancy, at the commission of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Stations.


Civil society out of environmental council

On 6th February 2020, president Jair Bolsonaro published a decree excluding civil society from the council of Brazil’s National Environment Fund (FNMA). Previously the body had four seats reserved for representation of non-governmental organisations. Since taking office in January 2019, the Bolsonaro government has sought has sought to shut down or reduce formal spaces for civil society participation. As previously reported on the Monitor, in April 2019 an executive order abolished dozens of participatory councils without debate or consultation.