Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 18:59 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2002 - Brazil

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2003
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2002 - Brazil, February 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5665723.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Workers Party (PT) candidate and former labor leader Luiz Inácio da Silva, known as Lula, won presidential elections in October, defeating the ruling coalition's candidate by a wide margin and becoming Brazil's first president not to come from the country's political and economic elite. In previous elections, the country's leading newspapers and television networks opposed Lula and his party. However, in the weeks leading up to the transfer of power, scheduled for January 2003, the press gave him and the PT more favorable coverage, prompting some commentators to speculate that ailing media companies want to improve relations with Lula to enlist his support for a possible financial bailout.

The June murder of Brazilian reporter Tim Lopes rocked the nation and illustrated the dangers that journalists in the country face when covering organized crime. Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers while working on assignment in one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, or shantytowns.

CPJ continues to follow developments in the case of a second murdered journalist, Domingos Sávio Brandão Lima Júnior, the owner, publisher, and a columnist of the daily Folha do Estado. He was killed by hired gunmen in September.

While the Brazilian media work relatively free from government intervention, several judicial decisions have restricted the press's ability to disseminate news considered to be of public interest. Civil and criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists and media outlets have increased during the last several years, according to the publishers' group Associação Nacional de Jornais (National Association of Newspapers). Too often, businessmen, politicians, and public officials pile up lawsuits against journalists to pressure them, strain their resources, and force them to halt their criticisms. Frequently, plaintiffs seek ridiculously high amounts of money as reparation for having suffered "moral damage." And judges more frequently admit such lawsuits in court and rule against journalists and media outlets.

For instance, in late October, Luís Nassif, a journalist with the daily Folha de S. Paulo, was convicted of defaming a construction company. The case stemmed from a September 2000 article in which Nassif reported on a high-court ruling against the company, which had sued a government-owned utility for damages. Bypassing the question of whether the journalist had intended to defame the company, the judge sentenced Nassif to three months in prison and ordered him to pay a fine worth 10 minimum salaries. The judge later commuted the sentence to community service work. At year's end, Nassif said he would appeal the sentence.

Members of the judiciary continued to interfere with the media by allowing prior censorship under the guise of protecting privacy and honor. Throughout 2002, judges granted injunctions banning the press from publishing any information about lawsuits involving politicians and public officials. In a decision that caused a widespread uproar, a judge ordered that copies of the October 24 edition of the Brasilia-based daily Correio Braziliense be searched and confiscated if the issue contained excerpts from conversations that were legally recorded by the police that the paper had obtained. These conversations allegedly implicated federal district governor Joaquim Roriz in acts of corruption. In addition, the judge ordered that a court official, accompanied by Roriz's lawyer, visit the paper's offices and monitor the editing process of the October 24 issue to ensure that no news about the tapes was published.

In December, the Senate's Justice and Constitution Committee passed a bill, known by its critics as the "gag law," to prohibit judicial and law enforcement officials from giving information to the press that could damage the reputation, honor, or privacy of any person under investigation. Violators face dismissal, hefty fines, up to two years' imprisonment, and a ban on holding a public job for three years. While the government insists that the bill seeks to prevent the premature disclosure of unsubstantiated allegations, many journalists fear the measure will inhibit press investigations of corruption, arguing that a person's reputation is already well protected under Brazilian law. The full Senate has not yet approved the bill.

May 23
Brazilian media LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED

A Brazilian judge granted an injunction banning the country's media from publishing any information about the administrative-disciplinary proceedings against Judge Renato Mehana Khamis, of the Regional Labor Tribunal of São Paulo State.

São Paulo State Court of Justice judge Zélia Maria Antunes Alves granted the injunction requested by Judge Khamis – who faces administrative-disciplinary proceedings for alleged sexual harassment – which bars the Brazilian media from circulating any information related to the case. According to Brazilian news reports, a lower-court judge in the city of São Paulo had earlier denied the injunction.

June 3
Tim Lopes, TV Globo KILLED

Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers.

He had disappeared several days earlier while working on assignment in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in a favela, an impoverished community that sits on the outskirts of the city.

On June 2, the 50-year-old Lopes traveled to the favela of Vila Cruzeiro. His driver met him there at around 8 p.m., but the journalist said he needed more time to finish his work. They agreed to meet again at 10 p.m., but Lopes never arrived. This was Lopes' fourth visit to Vila Cruzeiro, and he was carrying a hidden camera.

According to TV Globo, Lopes was working on a report about parties hosted by drug traffickers in Vila Cruzeiro that allegedly involved drugs and the sexual exploitation of minors. Favela residents had told Lopes that they were powerless against drug traffickers and had complained about the lack of police action.

On June 3, TV Globo reported Lopes' disappearance to the police.

According to the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, two suspects, both members of a gang headed by local drug trafficker Elias Pereira da Silva, also known as "Crazy Elias," were arrested on the morning of June 9. Both men claimed that they heard how Lopes was murdered but denied any involvement in his killing.

According to the suspects' depositions, details of which the police released and the Brazilian press published, drug traffickers close to Pereira da Silva kidnapped Lopes in Vila Cruzeiro at around midnight on June 2. After Lopes told them he was a TV Globo reporter, the traffickers called Pereira da Silva, who was in a nearby favela.

They tied Lopes' hands, forced him into a car, and took him to the favela where Pereira da Silva was staying. There, they beat the reporter and shot him in the feet to keep him from escaping. They then held a mock trial and sentenced Lopes to death.

Pereira da Silva killed Lopes with a sword, and his body was burned and put in a hidden burial ground, said the suspects.

On June 12, police found badly decomposed human remains, along with Lopes' camera and watch in Favela da Grota. After DNA tests, police confirmed on July 5 that the remains belonged to Lopes. Two days later, they were officially buried.

Lopes had received Brazil's most important journalism award in December 2001 for a TV Globo report on drug trafficking. The report, titled "Drug Fair," and broadcast in August 2001, was filmed with a hidden camera and showed how traffickers sold drugs in a makeshift open drug market in a favela outside Rio de Janeiro. Reporter Cristina Guimarães, who co-produced the piece with Lopes and two other colleagues, received death threats in September 2001 and had to leave Rio de Janeiro State, according to the daily O Estado de S. Paulo. The daily Jornal do Brasil reported that Lopes had also received threats for the report.

On September 19, after a two-day search, police apprehended drug lord Pereira da Silva. In early August, several members of his gang who had also been charged with murdering the journalist were either arrested or killed in a shoot-out with the police.

At year's end, Pereira da Silva and his accomplices remained in jail. No date had been set for trial.

September 19
Lúcio Flávio Pinto, Jornal Pessoal LEGAL ACTION

Lúcio Flávio, a free-lance journalist based in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, faced several criminal and civil lawsuits because of his reporting. The journalist writes the column "Carta da Amazônia" (Letter from the Amazon) for the São Paulo-based daily O Estado de S. Paulo and is the publisher and editor of the small, Belém-based monthly Jornal Pessoal.

The charges stem from a series of articles that the journalist published in Jornal Pessoal in 1999 and 2000 denouncing the illegal appropriation of timber-rich land in the Amazon rain forest by companies controlled by Cecílio do Rego Almeida, owner of the construction company CR Almeida, and his sons. The journalist also reported that the Pará Land Institute, a government agency that manages the land belonging to Pará State, and federal prosecutors were trying to cancel land titles that Almeida and his sons had bought and registered in collusion with corrupt judicial officials.

Lúcio Flávio supported his allegations with data from Brazil's Ministry of Agrarian Development. In interviews with the Brazilian press, Cecílio do Rego Almeida has denied that the land is public property. In 1996, federal and state authorities filed a lawsuit to try to recover the land. A court decision is still pending.

Cecílio do Rego Almeida filed a criminal defamation lawsuit and two civil lawsuits against Lúcio Flávio. According to legal documents that were made available to CPJ, the businessman alleges that the journalist's articles offended him and requests monetary compensation for "moral damages."

Pará State judge João Alberto Paiva has also filed criminal and civil lawsuits against the journalist. The charges stem from an editorial in which Lúcio Flávio heavily criticized the judge for granting an injunction that restored temporary control of the land contested by Brazilian authorities to a company controlled by Cecílio do Rego Almeida.

An award-winning journalist, Lúcio Flávio has received numerous threats in the past for his critical reporting on a variety of subjects, including drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption.

September 30
Domingos Sávio Brandão Lima Júnior, Folha do Estado KILLED (Motive unconfirmed) UPDATED: April 4, 2006

Brandão, owner, publisher, and columnist of the daily Folha do Estado, based in the city of Cuiabá in the central-western state of Mato Grosso, was shot at least five times by two unidentified men on a motorcycle.

The two men were waiting for Brandão near the paper's new offices, which were under construction. As Brandão was surveying the exterior of the building with an engineer from the construction company, the gunmen approached him, shot him in the chest and head, and fled on the motorcycle. Several people witnessed the murder.

In an October 1, 2002, editorial, Folha do Estado blamed the murder on a "parallel power," a reference to organized crime groups that it said had taken over Mato Grosso. The paper attributed Brandão's death to its extensive coverage of drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and government corruption. Brandão had not received any threats, the newspaper said.

On October 2, 2002, police arrested former police officers Hércules de Araújo Agostinho and Célio Alves de Souza in connection with the murder of Brandão. During a raid of the suspects' homes the same day, police confiscated weapons, ammunition, and four motorcycles. Two days later, police announced that ballistic tests confirmed one of the weapons found was used in Brandão's murder.

In early December 2002, a federal judge ordered that former police officer-turned-businessman João Arcanjo Ribeiro be held in temporary detention after federal and state prosecutors identified him as the head of a major organized crime group and linked him to several homicides, including the murder of Brandão. Ribeiro fled, and was arrested in Uruguay in 2003 and held in detention there while awaiting extradition proceedings.

Later that month, Ribeiro was formally charged with masterminding Brandão's murder in retaliation for his newspaper's criticism of organized crime and illegal gambling. Ribeiro also faced homicide, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, illegal gambling, and racketeering charges. Prosecutors also charged former police officers Araújo and Alves with involvement in the murder. Two suspects arrested the same month, João Leite and Fernando Barbosa Belo, were charged as accomplices.

In December 2003, Araújo was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2005, Leite and Alves were convicted and sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison, respectively. Alves escaped prison in July 2005 and remains a fugitive. In September 2005, Barbosa was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

On March 10, 2006, Ribeiro was extradited from Uruguay and taken to the Pascoal Ramos Prison near Cuiabá. A state judge is hearing the charges against him to determine whether he should stand trial by jury for ordering the murder of Brandão.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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