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Supreme Court strikes down archaic press law

Brazil's Supreme Court has made a "historic decision" to repeal the 1967 press law, which allowed for jail sentences for press offences, report the Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The country's highest jurisdiction voted on 30 April by a vote of seven to four to sweep away the repressive law, which had been adopted under the 1964-1985 military dictatorship but which contradicted free speech guarantees protected by the newer 1988 Constitution.

"The book has finally been closed on Brazil's darkest era; every Brazilian should stand proud at this moment," said IAPA.

The law was historically used to silence and manipulate the press, says ARTICLE 19, by authorising a number of abusive measures against journalists and media outlets. They included sending journalists to jail for defamation - even when they were reporting on human rights violations and corruption; seizing newspapers without a judicial order; and censoring or outright banning newspapers and magazines.

"Nothing is more harmful and dangerous than the state seeking to regulate freedom of expression and freedom of thought," said Supreme Court Judge Celso de Mello when debating the repeal.

Beginning in February 2008, the Supreme Court decided to suspend the most repressive articles of the law relating to defamation, insult and denigration, which allowed for judges to impose harsher sentences than those outlined in the penal code.

While welcoming the decision, ARTICLE 19 cites a continuing legal gap that needs to be resolved: "No clear standards apply to the question of damages for defamation, which will be now at the sole discretion of individual judges."

ARTICLE 19 is calling for the victory to be followed up by the adoption of legislation on privacy and defamation which respects constitutional and international guarantees of freedom of expression.

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