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Defamation case leads to rare 6-month prison sentence for Brazilian journalist

Abraji received with indignation news that Aguirre Talento – a current reporter for Folha de S.Paulo – was sentenced to six months and six days in an open prison regime, under the charge of defamation. The Bahia State Court verdict is favourable to Humberto Riella Sobrinho, a real estate entrepreneur who claims the stories published by Talento while working for A Tarde newspaper contain false information.

Abraji considers the sentencing of a journalist to imprisonment for a published story to be an attack on freedom of expression. The UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity recommends that defamation suits shall be judged under the civil law. Jail sentences in cases of defamation are rare in Brazil, and perpetrators are usually made to pay high fines instead.

The judge in charge of the case, Antonio Silva Pereira, considered that Talento acted "meanly" and "clearly intend[ed] to stain Sobrinho's reputation", but didn't point out elements to prove his intentionality. Without characterizing the alleged bad faith, Pereira sentenced the journalist to six months and six days of detention in open regime - a sanction converted into community service.

Humberto Riella Sobrinho is one of the local real estate businessmen who has been suing A Tarde newspaper professionals. According to the Bahia Journalists Union (Sinjorba), the group is also suing the journalists Biaggio Talento, Regina Bochichio, Patricia França, Vitor Rocha, Felipe Amorim, Marcelo Brandão and Valmar Hupsel Filho. It's worth noting that the newspaper itself has never been sued. The lawsuits, that can reach up to R$ 1 million (approx. US$ 0.5 million) in reparations, always aim at the weakest target: the journalist.

Sinjorba filed lawsuits of slanderous denunciation against the entrepreneurs and Aguirre Talento's lawyer will appeal the sentence.

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