Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

Brazil: Serious crimes against free expression in 2012

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 14 March 2013
Other Languages / Attachments Full report (in Portuguese)
Cite as Article 19, Brazil: Serious crimes against free expression in 2012, 14 March 2013, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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.

  • 1 journalist or human rights defender is murdered every four weeks in Brazil because of something they said. For every 1 killed, 4 are attacked.
  • 3/4 of attacks occurred after the victim made allegations about a public body, official, or company.
  • Government must change the law so that ministers and prosecutors can order the federal police to overide local authorities and investigate and prosecute Crimes Against Free Expression at the national level.

The frequency of serious violations of freedom of expression in Brazil was intense in 2012. On average, a serious crime was committed every week.

In 2012, there were an equal number of cases of murder and attempted murder with death threats and kidnappings. In our research, most serious attacks were indeed failed attempts to murder. 

The greatest number of serious incidents reported by ARTICLE 19 in 2012 happened against journalists. However, there are equal numbers of murders and attempted murders of human rights defenders and journalists - which clearly shows that it is not only journalists who are at risk for exercising freedom of expression. 

Although the occurrence of serious violations of freedom of expression is numerically smaller among women, they face other specific bullying such as sexual harassment - hardly reported, disseminated or otherwise recorded. Another explanation of the gender difference is the lower participation of women in public debates and political life, either as journalists or defending a specific cause.

Among journalists, it is very important to note that most of the threats, nearly half (40%) are related to the content they post on their personal blogs, websites and social media. This phenomenon contradicts the status of freedom of expression on the net that many advocate in Brazil claim is absolute. It also demonstrates that the challenges to freedom of expression online are not only virtual and not only relating to legislation.

Still, there is almost no variation in motivation for serious violations of freedom of expression in 2012 compared to previous years. The state (politicians, police and public officials) reacts violently against claims and allegations that are disclosed, published or registered - especially on the internet. Agencies like the ombudsman or internal affairs (which are instances that should have the role of monitoring and punishing officials) recurrently fail to stop such criminal practices.

Although there is an assumption that low institutionalisation of the state in more remote areas of the country could be result in serious violations of freedom of expression, the opposite is true. The Southeast and Midwest are top for violations. Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo were the most violent states for freedom of expression in Brazil in 2012. What can possibly explain this phenomenon is that the state is regularly implicated in the killings, attempted murders, death threats and kidnappings. Most crimes happened in small towns with less than 100,000 inhabitants - places where there is more closeness between state and population.

Wider society fails to recognise the victims and the perpetrators. It is very significant that 74% of motivation comes from allegations made by the victim. But complaints are not taken seriously and instead whistleblowers are persecuted. A society that does not believe in the work of journalists and human rights defenders cannot force the government to get involved in these issues.

What usually happens in cases of violence against activists for freedom of expression is that those who witness the attacks even feel threatened. One reason for this silence is the deafening sensation - and sometimes the certainty - that the instigators of these crimes still go unpunished.

Therefore, we reaffirm that besides the negative obligation not to violate human rights, the state has an obligation to take positive steps to prevent any attack that aims to silence people, even if it is committed by other actors. And if the authorities are unable to prevent violations of freedom of expression, they are obliged to investigate your circumstances and prosecute those responsible. An investigation is an insufficient incentive for human rights violators.

When researching cases, ARTICLE 19 found that even if the possible violation does not have a direct relationship with freedom of expression, it will have an impact on the free flow of information, ideas and opinions.

In the first half of 2012, serious violations of freedom of expression occurred mainly with journalists, men, adults, living in small towns. We also note that the political connection proved to be a feature present in all the cases of murders related to freedom of expression. For the most part, especially in the case of journalists, victims participated in some form of local politics.

Those who work for regional or national media, most of whom are based in the capital, seem to run a lower risk of assassination attempts or threats. That does not mean they are immune to attacks on freedom of expression, since lawsuits are also a way to restrain the publication of certain news reports that go against the interests of those who have great influence over local or backstage politics.

From the analysis of the cases, we find that - although there is an intention for institutionalisation of censorship in Brazil - in most cases, we found that the processes of intimidation and violence related to freedom of expression occur through the actions of the state itself, through the action of the police or local politicians. 


ARTICLE 19 demands that the Brazilian authorities take all necessary legal and policy measures to protect journalists and human rights defenders and defend freedom of expression in accordance with their international responsibilities. More specifically, they must:

  • Publicly recognise that journalists are especially vulnerable to violence because of their work. This should always be considered from the beginning as a possibility in any investigation of the violations
  • Publicly recognise that human rights defenders face additional risks to what citizens face daily because of the ideas and opinions they defend. This should be considered in the adoption of protective measures
  • Publicly condemn the serious violations of freedom of expression without discrimination, and refrain from any negative publicity or criminalisation regarding the human rights defender or journalist in question
  • Provide immediate protection to human rights defenders and journalists who suffer assassination attempts or are threatened with death;
  • Create and implement an effective policy for the promotion and protection of journalists, allowing them to work in an environment free and secure
  • Train your public officials, especially those working for law enforcement, on how to provide a rapid and effective response when a journalist and human rights defender is threatened
  • If an attack occurs, start an immediate, effective and independent investigation in order to bring the perpetrators and instigators to justice. When there is a possibility of involvement of local authorities or other government agencies, such investigation should be transferred to another jurisdiction or authority outside
  • Provide ongoing information and updates on the development of these investigations in the first place for families and their lawyers and also to the general public
  • Put specific measures in place to prevent the repetition of such acts
  • Pay special attention to facilitating the work of civil society and media organisations to deal with freedom of expression and protection of journalists and human rights defenders.

Intergovernmental organisations and the international community is recommended to:

  • Prioritise the protection of journalists and human rights defenders as part of their concerns about human rights in their agendas
  • Assist Brazil to comply with its international obligations on human rights in accordance with international law, including the monitoring of the implementation of relevant decisions and judgments of international human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.

To civil society and media organisations:

  • Continue to monitor the situation of protection of journalists and human rights defenders, as well as the situation of freedom of expression in Brazil, in particular combining their efforts to assist in investigations into attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, highlighting its concern not only at national but also at bilateral, regional and international levels, using new technologies
  • To build documents, for example via a website / central portal, enabling the supply of information nationally and internationally by the general public, who should be engaged and encouraged to be part of campaigns and demonstrations aimed at combating and eliminating impunity
  • For media organisations, promote appropriate safety and self-protection for their employees, providing them with safety equipment as required and providing training for both employees and for freelancers.

    Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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