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Brazil's largest newspaper has so far won seven lawsuits out of nearly 60 libel cases filed against it by an evangelical church, over an article that criticised the church's business empire, report the Brazilian Investigative Journalism Association (ABRAJI), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members.

"Folha de S. Paulo" won two more court victories last week against the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, one of Brazil's most influential evangelical churches.

The newspaper had already won five cases, which were prompted by an article in December about the church's sizable assets. The actions have been brought by individual members of the church, who claim the article "offended" their religious sentiments and made them victims of harassment.

Meanwhile, two other daily newspapers, the Rio de Janeiro-based "Extra", and the Salvador, Bahia-based "A Tarde", have been the target of another 40 lawsuits by the Universal Church over their reports of a case in which a church member defiled Catholic religious images.

IAPA suspects the lawsuits are intended "to stop the press from doing investigative reporting and instead resort to self-censorship." It called on the courts to "give precedence to freedom of the press and the people's right to know above any particular interest."

All of the lawsuits have been brought under a 1967 press law that allows journalists to be imprisoned for defamation and insulting comments. Inherited from the former military dictatorship, the law is no longer used at the federal level because it conflicts with the 1998 Constitution, but is still used against reporters in some states.

Last month, the federal Supreme Court suspended application of 20 of its 77 articles, report ARTICLE 19 and RSF. The judges' decision opens the way to a full repeal of the law, which was proposed in a draft bill put forward last December by Federal Deputy Miro Teixeira.

Visit these links:
- ABRAJI (Portuguese):
- RSF:
- RSF on press law:
- "Universal turns 30 with a business empire" (article about church's assets):
(4 March 2008)

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