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Twenty Press Law articles deemed incompatible with constitution

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 22 February 2008 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Twenty articles of the Press Law deemed incompatible with the Constitution

On Thursday 21 February, the Supreme Court of Brazil granted a provisional decision suspending the application of 20 articles of the 1967 Press Law. The Supreme Court considered that these articles should no longer be in force or applied because of their incompatibility with the democratic values and press freedom standards of the 1988 constitution.

"The 1967 Press Law was adopted during the dictatorial regime and as a result imposed a number of restrictions to freedom of press that were in direct contradiction with the values of a democratic society. ARTICLE 19 had repeatedly pointed out problems with this outdated legislation and welcomes the fact that its revision is under debate both in the courts and in the congress," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The Democratic Labour Party (known by the acronym PDT) filed this week a lawsuit before the Supreme Court arguing that the legal confusion around the Press Law legal provisions poses serious risk to the protection of the right to freedom of expression, and specifically, freedom of press.

The Supreme Court decided to suspend a number of articles in the Press Law, including those authorizing the imposition of censorship to public entertainment events, such as shows and performances; forbidding the involvement of foreigners in media outlets; or those imposing higher sanctions for calumny, defamation and slander when the crime has been committed by or through the press. The Supreme Court suspended the articles which allowed the apprehension of printed material inciting to social and political subversion; and the closing down of media outlets irrespective of judicial decision. It also suspended the article that prevented the proof of veracity in defamation cases against certain authorities, including the President of the Republic.

The Supreme Court also suspended the articles that imposed an indemnification ceiling in civil defamation cases against the press, and that imposed a time limit for an offended party to file indemnification lawsuits for declarations printed or broadcasted by the media.

While ARTICLE 19 welcomes the suspension of a number of these articles, it is concerned that some may need further consideration, particularly with respect to international standards and best practices in the field of freedom of expression. For instance, the adoption of a ceiling to civil defamation lawsuits or of a time limit to file a defamation lawsuit may not necessarily be detrimental to freedom of expression or freedom of the press. These two issues must be reconsidered in order to avoid imposing excessive limitations that may further inhibit freedom of the press and freedom of expression in general.

The Supreme Court decision is both provisional and preliminary, meaning that it can be modified before the end of the case and that the final decision is not in any way bound or restricted by it.

"ARTICLE 19 urges the Brazilian Supreme Court to conduct the review and revision of the Press Law on the basis of Brazil's obligations under international law. It should revoke those legal provisions within the Press Law that violate international standards on freedom of expression and best practices in the area. ARTICLE 19 also urges the Brazilian Congress to expeditiously discuss and approve a new law drafted in accordance with these same standards and practices," said Dr. Callamard.

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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