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CHURCH SUES JOURNALIST, NEWSPAPER

A journalist and the largest newspaper in Brazil are facing 28 separate lawsuits over an article that criticises a church's business empire, reports the Brazilian Investigative Journalism Association (ABRAJI).

At least 28 members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God have filed individual lawsuits against journalist Elvira Lobato and the newspaper where she works, "Folha de S. Paulo", for her investigative report that reveals the way properties amassed by the church over the past 30 years are managed by bishops.

The lawsuits, filed in cities in seven separate states, are "90 percent" identical, according to Taís Gasparian, a lawyer for the newspaper. Citing the same biblical passages in their lawsuits, the members claim that the report, "Universal turns 30 with a business empire", published on 15 December 2007, has made them the victims of harassment on the street.

According to Gasparian, Lobato's report did not mention any of the members who are suing her or the paper by name.

"It's curious that the lawsuits' descriptions of the harassment are the same, whether the people are from Paraíba or Río Grande do Sul," says Gasparian. Paraíba and Rio Grande do Sul are states located at opposite ends of the country.

"It seems that the lawsuit is intended to inhibit the press and the journalist," says Gasparian, pointing to the difficulty Lobato will face having to defend herself in lawsuits across such a large country.

According to "Brazzil Magazine", the founder of Universal Church, "Bishop" Edir Macedo, put "some fear in the hearts and pockets of the establishment" when he started buying up radio stations, theatres and supermarkets in the 1980s. Although he has been accused of fraud and embezzlement in the past, he has never been found guilty.

Visit these links:
- ABRAJI (English): http://tinyurl.com/2w2ngx
- ABRAJI (Portuguese): http://tinyurl.com/33m2dw
- "Brazzil Magazine": http://tinyurl.com/2llyff
- "Universal turns 30 with a business empire": http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/folha/brasil/ult96u355188.shtml
(29 January 2008)

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