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Journalist and newspaper facing at least 28 separate lawsuits over critical article on church's business empire

(ABRAJI/IFEX) - At least 28 members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God have filed individual lawsuits against journalist Elvira Lobato and the newspaper "Folha de S. Paulo", for which she works. They say that they were insulted by her investigative report, entitled "Universal turns 30 with a business empire", published on 15 December 2007. It's possible that still more lawsuits may have been filed of which the journalist and the newspaper have not yet been informed by the justice system.

Lobato's report investigated the assets amassed by the church over the previous 30 years and revealed the way these properties are managed between the bishops.

The lawsuits, filed in cities in seven separate states, are almost identical, according to Taís Gasparian, lawyer for "Folha de S. Paulo". "The texts are 90 percent the same", she said.

Aside from citing the same biblical passages in their lawsuits, the Universal Church members all claim to have suffered harassment on the street following the article. Gasparian says "it's curious that the lawsuits' descriptions of the harassment are the same, whether the people are from Paraíba or Río Grande do Sul." Paraíba and Rio Grande do Sul are states located at opposite ends of the country.

According to Gasparian, the newspaper report didn't mention by name any of the church members who are suing the journalist and the newspaper. "It seems that there is an arrangement. It seems that the lawsuit is intended to inhibit the press and the journalist. You can imagine how difficult it is for a journalist to defend herself in lawsuits across such a large country."

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