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Brazilian court upholds ban on development protestor

ARTICLE 19 is disappointed with the decision of a court in Sao Paulo to uphold a ban against a protester who has been campaigning against a property development in the city. The Court of Justice in the State of São Paulo has approved an injunction against the engineer and community activist Ricardo Fraga Oliveira, founder of the Movement for the Other Side of the Wall campaign.

Fraga, who is a vocal opponent of a real estate development by the construction firm Mofarrej Vila Mariana SPE Empreendimentos Imobiliários S/A, will not be allowed to demonstrate within a block of the construction work and has had to delete all references to the company from his campaign Facebook page.

"This is one of the first court cases concerning online protest in Brazil. The court understood that this was an exercise in balancing rights, but failed to observe international standards that protect freedom of expression. As a result, the scales have tipped in the wrong direction. It is entirely disproportionate to silence a campaigner in this way from speaking out about a issue of public interest”, said Paula Martins, Director of ARTICLE 19 Brazil.

At the trial, Judge Moreira Viegas noted that the case represented a clash of rights: the right of companies to engage in free economic enterprise - and the right of freedom of expression for the campaigner to share his views about the development.

According to the judge, the content of the Facebook page was "offensive" to the company's image. However, the court found that the protest distance restriction from the first court decision was disproportionate. From 1 km, the restriction now is limited to outside one block from the construction site.

“If the court really did feel the restriction was necessary, they should be seeking other less intrusive measures. A total ban on internet posts about the construction project and on all protests in the area surrounding the construction is extreme and a violation of Mr. Fraga's right to freedom of expression", said Martins.

International standards clearly state that any restriction to free speech will only be legitimate if there is a pressing social need for restricting that speech. When there is social need, the restriction that is put in place should be the least intrusive restriction possible.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the court has failed to acknowledge that the property rights of the developers are not being damaged by the campaign.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that the court has not considered the public interest of the campaign in raising debate about the urban and environmental consequences of the development for the neighborhood and its residents.

During the court hearing, ARTICLE 19 and other supporters of Mr. Fraga held a silent protest against the restrictions imposed by the Brazilian court. The activists used black bands over their mouths and rose up during the final reading of the sentence.

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