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Evangelical church loses two more lawsuits against São Paulo daily

(RSF/IFEX) - "A Folha de São Paulo" won two more court victories on 22 February 2008 against the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), one of Brazil's most influential evangelical churches, which has launched some 60 lawsuits against the daily in a total of 20 states.

The newspaper had previously won five of these cases, which were prompted by an article in December 2007 about the church's sizable assets. The actions have all been brought by individual members of the church, who claim the article "offended" their religious sentiments.

One of the two latest cases was in Tarauacá, in the western Amazonian state of Acre, where Judge Romário Divino Faria ruled that IURD member Cléber Andrade dos Santos "was not offended on an individual basis." In Cianorte, in the southern state of Paraná, Judge Fabiano Berbel dismissed the suit brought by Jackson Luis Gonçalves.

Two other daily newspapers, the Rio de Janeiro-based "Extra" and the Salvador da Bahia-based "A Tarde", have meanwhile been the target of 40 lawsuits over their reports of a case in which an IURD member profaned images in a Catholic church in the northeastern state of Bahia.

All these lawsuits have been brought under a 1967 press law under which journalists can be imprisoned for defamation and insulting comments. Inherited from the former military dictatorship, the law has effectively lapsed. Federal Supreme Court Judge Carlos Ayres Britto suspended application of 20 of its 77 articles on 21 February in a ruling issued independently of the IURD lawsuits. His decision, which is awaiting confirmation by the court in a plenary session, could speed the adoption of a bill presented in December 2007 by federal parliamentarian Miro Teixeira that would completely overturn the provisions of the 1967 law.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the latest rulings in favour of "A Folha de São Paulo" and, like Brazil's journalists' organisations, hopes that the Teixeira bill will be quickly debated and adopted.

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