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Supreme Court defends right to freedom of expression

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Sao Paulo 20.06.11 - ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the right of every citizen to advocate for controversial ideas. The Supreme Court ruled on 15 June 2011 that the freedom to disseminate controversial ideas about the decriminalisation of marijuana should be protected and guaranteed by the state.

"We applaud the Supreme Court's decision. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that protects the free flow of opinions and ideas in societies. As a result, it includes the freedom of every person to express ideas on contentious issues, including on activities that are considered immoral or illegitimate by some sectors of society," said Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19 South America Director.

"The marches did not have the intention of disseminating or supporting drug use. Instead, they intended to propose changes in national legislation," continued Martins.

The Supreme Court's decision follows a series of lawsuits at the state courts, prohibiting the organisation of the Marijuana March in many cities in Brazil over the last few years. These lawsuits are based on article 287 of the Brazilian Penal Code, which defines as a crime the act of "publicly making an apology for a criminal act or for the author of a crime", and article 33 of Law 11.343, which establishes the crime of "inducing, instigating or helping someone to use drugs".

The Supreme Court's justices ruled, however, that the pro-decriminalisation demonstrations are a legitimate exercise of free expression and do not encourage people to consume marijuana. In 2008, ARTICLE 19 called on the Brazilian judiciary to review previous restrictive sentences.

"I have always emphasized in this Court that nothing is more harmful and more dangerous than the desire of the State to stifle freedom of expression, even if the aim is to expose ideas or to formulate proposals that most of the community repudiates; therefore I'm sure that thought must be free, always free, permanently free, essentially free," said Justice Celso de Mello.

ARTICLE 19 considers the judicial decisions prohibiting marches, the detention of demonstrators and the use of violence to scatter peaceful protests - as is repeatedly seen in Brazil, including in this year's staging of the Marijuana March - to be very serious violations against freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which are guaranteed by international human rights instruments and by the Brazilian Constitution.

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