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Wave of legal, physical intimidation of journalists sweeping through Brazil

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expresses concern at threats to and intimidation of reporters with the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, newspaper EXTRA and repudiated the conviction on defamation charges of two journalists in Bahia and São Paulo, saying these amount to a serious attack on press freedom.

On May 9 reporter Flávia Junqueira, news photographer Fabio Guimarães and driver Bruno Guerra of EXTRA were covering a Federal Police operation against fraud in the health plan of the Postal and Telegraph Company when a person known as Janjão, suspected of being implicated in the wrongdoing, crashed into their vehicle.

To show that the newspaper would not remain silent in the face of such attacks yesterday (May 13) it published on its front page a report of the formal complaint -under investigation since last year-, together with the signatures of all the EXTRA journalists and the phrase: “The report by Flávia Junqueira, threatened by Janjão, is signed by all the paper's journalists in order to remind that the anti-corruption battle is not the work of just one reporter but the duty of all members of the press.”

In another development, concerning one of the court rulings that the IAPA regards as “producing a paralyzing effect on the press” on April 28 reporter Aguirre Talento was sentenced by the Bahia Court to six months in open prison, resulting in community service, and a fine. He was charged with libeling businessman Humberto Sobrinho Riella in a report on environmental offenses published in 2010 while he was working at the newspaper A Tarde.

On May 12 journalist Ricardo Boechat with TV Bandeirantes was sentenced by the São Paulo Court to six months and 16 days in prison on a charge of defamation resulting from a comment about Senator Roberto Requião. The sentence was reduced to community service.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said that the threats to the journalists' life and the legal intimidation “are aimed at producing an inhibitory effect on the press, directly limiting the public's right to be informed.”

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, declared, “Unfortunately in Brazil these cases of defamation show that there continues to be a growing industry of legal actions with the objective of silencing and intimidating the press.” He added that Brazil is one of the few countries reluctant to make defamation no longer a criminal offense, placing it outside of international norms on freedom of the press and of expression.

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