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"A Tarde", "Extra" and their journalists also targets of barrage of lawsuits by evangelical church's members; IAPA warns of attempt to silence media

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 20 February 2008 IAPA press release:

IAPA concerned by barrage of lawsuits in Brazil

MIAMI, Florida (February 20, 2008) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at an onslaught of lawsuits filed against Brazilian news media, saying it suspected the action could be intended to stop the press from doing investigative reporting and instead resort to self-censorship. It called on the courts in the South American country to "give precedence to freedom of the press and the people's right to know above any particular interest."

Members of the Kingdom of God Universal Church in a number of Brazilian cities applied the same wording when filing close to 100 libel suits in small towns nationwide against three journalists and their employers, the newspapers Folha de S. Paulo in São Paulo, A Tarde in Salvador and Extra in Rio de Janeiro.

IAPA President Earl Maucker declared, "Apart from the respect that we must have for every citizen's right to resort to the courts when he or she feels offended by a report, in this particular case - and given the context - we strongly suspect that what is involved is a maneuver aimed at intimidation and restricting freedom of expression."

Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, added, "We are witnessing an unprecedented effort to force newspapers to expend extraordinary expense and time defending themselves; what they really want is to buy their silence."

Maucker, editor and senior vice president of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper Sun-Sentinel, and Marroquín, editor of Prensa Libre in Guatemala City, Guatemala, issued a public call on the Brazilian courts to consider the context of what was happening and give precedence to freedom of the press and the public's right to know above any personal or interest group.

The newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and reporter Elvira Lobato had 50 lawsuits claiming pain and suffering filed against them following the December 15th publication of a report headlined "Universal celebrates its 30th as a business empire" - a reference to the properties and big businesses that the religious group amassed over its three-decades-long existence.

Another 36 lawsuits seeking punitive damages were filed in dozens of cities against the Salvador newspaper A Tarde and its reporter Valmar Hupsel Filho following the December 3rd publication of a report on the destruction of a Catholic image by a member of the Kingdom of God Universal Church.

Another report on this incident by the newspaper Extra, a member of the Globo chain in Rio de Janeiro, led to five lawsuits being brought against that paper and its news editor, Burno Thys, by pastors of the evangelical church.

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