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Court silences Brazilian property development protestor

ARTICLE 19 has lent its support to the case of Ricardo Fraga de Oliveira, who has been forbidden from protesting against a property development project in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In response to a lawsuit filed by the construction company in charge of the development, the 34th Civil Court of São Paulo issued a decision forbidding Fraga from protesting or participating in any activity within one square kilometre of the construction and also from protesting about the development on Facebook. ARTICLE 19 believes that this decision is a violation of Fraga's right to freedom of expression.

In support of Ricardo Fraga de Oliveira we have:
* Filed an amicus brief in the interlocutory appeal against the judge's decision
* Organised a joint statement, signed by 19 civil society organisations and public figures
* Organised an online campaign
* Reported the case to special procedures in both the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS).

We strongly urge the judges in charge of the case to withdraw the restrictions imposed on Fraga with immediate effect. Our arguments are that:

Fraga's actions involved his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The right to freedom of expression protects not only the substance of an expression (the ideas and information) but also its form. Understood alongside the right to peaceful assembly, this clearly applies to public protests or demonstrations. It also covers the dissemination of ideas and information via social media, such as Facebook.

Under international standards, any restrictions to these rights must meet the requirements of the three-part test. That is, they must be provided by law, have a legitimate aim and be both necessary and in proportion to that aim. The 34th Civil Court of São Paulo failed to take these requirements into consideration. The judgment does not contain any explanation of either the aims of the injunctions against Fraga or the need for them. We find the blanket ban on protest, the prohibition on using Facebook to protest and the severe sanctions threatened to be grossly disproportionate to any possible aim.

Reporting the case to the UN and OAS

This week, ARTICLE 19 submitted Fraga's case for the attention of the UN and OAS Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the São Paulo Court of Justice may confirm the provisory decision at the final judgment scheduled for May 8 and maintain the restrictions against the victim. Although ARTICLE 19 is confident that Brazilian Superior Courts will reverse the decision, the impact on Ricardo's life and rights will have already been realised. ARTICLE 19 has requested the OAS and UN's intervention to protect his Constitutional right to speak against the construction and protest in creative ways. We expect the international agencies to request further information on the case and call for the enforcement of Mr. Fraga's human rights, not only as a form of redress, but as a form of prevention in relation to similar violations that may occur in the future.

About the case

In July 2011, Ricardo Fraga de Oliveira started a campaign, O Outro Lado do Muro – Intervenção Coletiva (The Other Side of the Wall – A Collective Intervention) to challenge the construction of a new property development in Vila Mariana, a district of São Paulo.

His campaign consisted of mobilising the public, including the creation of a dedicated Facebook page and a petition, and of carrying out peaceful protests on a public pavement near the construction site. Fraga invited supporters to look at the new building works through a fence or by climbing a ladder and to express their feelings about the visual impact of the project on a whiteboard. None of this has caused any disruption to the construction or surrounding traffic.

The campaign has received widespread support from many local residents, civil society organisations and public figures. The petition, which requested a review of the administrative process that granted construction licences to the project because of concerns over possible irregularities, gathered 5,000 signatures.

In response, Mofarrej Vila Mariana SPE Empreendimentos Imobiliários S/A, the property development company responsible for the construction, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Fraga seeking to prohibit him both from protesting himself and from organising any further protests about the construction.

On 6 March 2013, the 34th Civil Court of São Paulo issued a preliminary decision. This prohibits Fraga from participating in the protests or in any other activities near the construction site and from posting anything about this subject on the campaign's Facebook page. Any violation of this order could result in a fine of 10,000 Reais (approximately USD 5,000) for each infraction.

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