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Secret session for vote on senator's impeachment violates right to freedom of information, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Brazil: Secret Session for Voting of Senator's Impeachment Endangers Credibility of Brazilian Democratic Institutions

This Wednesday, in a session carried out behind closed doors, Brazilian senators absolved - by 40 votes against 35 - the president of the house, Mr. Renan Calheiros, accused of unethical behavior by the Senate Ethics Commission, which had also recommended his impeachment.

"ARTICLE 19 deeply regrets this episode, which stands in sharp contrast with the government's professed commitment to transparency and open government. Freedom of information is a cornerstone right, essential to democratic societies. Access to information constitutes also an international obligation assumed by the Brazilian government under international law. Urgent measures should be adopted by the Brazilian authorities to ensure that freedom of information becomes an institutional policy actively promoted and defended by all public bodies" said Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The Brazilian Constitution in its article 55 requires secrecy only for the ballot in impeachment cases, not for the entire session that debates impeachment. It is the Statute of the Senate that sets out the secrecy of these sessions.

Although secret ballots are not uncommon, ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the secrecy of the session that took place yesterday. This has violated not only international norms on openness and transparency, but also Brazil's own Constitution: Article 5 of the 1988 Constitution ensures the right of access to public information and Article 37 guarantees the principle of publicity applicable to every government act.

The decision to hold the session behind closed doors served only to create much unrest and an environment of suspicion.

Even the members of the other house of congress - the Camara dos Deputados - were forbidden from entering the session. Thirteen Deputados filed an injunction before the Supreme Court and got authorization to be present at the session. They were barred at the door by security staff and were only allowed in after much discussion and some violence. The Supreme Court provisional decision in the case was silent in relation to the constitutionality of the Senate's Statute article on closed sessions as regards the right of access to public information. The decision's justification was one of equality between the two houses. The final decision in the lawsuit is still pending and should rule on the illegality, or not, of the Statute.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

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