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Brazil: Judicial decisions, a growing threat to online freedom

When it comes to freedom on the Internet, Brazil is a free country according to a special report released by the Freedom House. The country has scored a total of 26 points out of a possible 100 (the lower the score the greater the freedom), showing that it has a generally open environment with few government obstacles to access (5 points out of 25), a low level of content control (8 points out of 35 for limits on content), and few violations of individual users’ rights (13 points out of 40).

The main problem in Brazil, and according to the findings a growing threat, is judicial decisions leading to content censorship. Along with the United Kingdom and Turkey, the country faces a high number of violations of user rights from the threat of prosecution for libel and defamation. According to the report Freedom on the Net: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media: “Internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque filtering procedures, and expanding surveillance.” The same report offers the following statistical view of digital Brazil:

Brazil in numbers

Population: 194 million

Internet Users/Penetration 2006: 32 million / 17 percent

Internet Users/Penetration 2008: 68 million / 35 percent

Mobile Phone Users/Penetration 2006: 100 million

Mobile Phone Users/Penetration 2008: 151 million

Freedom of the Press (2008) Score/Status: 42 / Partly Free

Digital Opportunity Index (2006) Ranking: 65 out of 181

GNI Per Capita (PPP): $9,400

Web 2.0 Applications Blocked: Yes

Political Content Systematically Filtered: No

Bloggers/Online Journalists Arrested: No

Freedom on the Net: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media investigated 15 countries with the aim of looking at emerging tactics adopted by governments to control internet and mobile phone use, including attempts to control, regulate, and censor the content of blogs, websites, and text messages.

A growing threat

Although freedom of expression is a constitutional right, there have been a great deal of civil and administrative charges against bloggers, notably lawsuits by politicians. The latest blogger to fall victim to one of these is Juvêncio de Arruda, from the very popular Quinta Emenda [pt] blog, who has had to delete a few posts [pt] at request of a former Para state parliament representative, Luiz Afonso Sefer, who is being investigated by a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission into pedophilia.

According to Judge Teresinha Nunes Moura's decision [pt], the blogger must refrain from publicizing either on his blog or any other media any phrase which might be linked to the concerned politician. If Arruda had not complied, he would have had to pay a daily fine of R$1,000 (about US$ 457.89). Fellow bloggers claim blogs have in fact had an important role in bringing to light the accusations that led to a state wise investigation into pedophilia, and see this as the latest display of censorship in Brazil.

Hiroshi Bogéa [pt] points out that the blogger had commented on public information, and had been reporting on the investigation on a daily basis. He says that this suit shows that authorities are not happy with people having freedom of information:

Mais uma razão pra se aceitar a máxima que circula em Belém dando conta de que a força da família Seffer é capaz de tudo.

It's another reason to believe the saying that goes around [Pará's capital] Belém claiming that the Seffer family can do anything [they want].

Franssinete Florenzano [pt], who has been following the investigation closely, cannot believe how quickly the blogger was judged, considering that Brazilian justice is infamous for its slowness to act. The suit was filed on the eve of a bank holiday and the summons was ready on the next business day. She points out that the justice system was very quick to punish the blogger who has made information public whereas the accused man in the investigation is free:

Tal celeridade seria louvável se tratasse, por exemplo, de proteger uma criancinha estuprada anos a fio, explorada como mão-de-obra escrava, privada de viver em família, excluída do convívio saudável com outras de sua idade, aniquilada em seus sonhos infantis, destruída em sua integridade física, psicológica e moral.

This speed would be welcome if it was, for example, to protect the child who was raped years on end, having being exploited to work as a slave, deprived of a family life, excluded from healthy living with others of her age, her childhood dreams annihilated, her physical, psychological and moral integrity destroyed .

Lafayette wishes that Brazilian justice was always fast like this:


I pray every day, holiday or not, for justice to work well like this for everyone, for the poor and for the rich!

Following the same line of though, the blogger at Blog do CJK [pt] says he would not be surprised if the investigation into pedophilia comes to nothing:

Não se duvide, ao final de todo este processo, o único condenado pela Justiça pode ser o blogueiro.

Don't you be surprised if at the end of the investigation the blogger is the only one to be condemned by justice.

José Carlos Lima [pt] highlights the important role bloggers have played in the State of Para:

Muita coisa que hoje virou notícia no Pará, incluindo a CPI da Pedofilia, rodou primeiro no mundo dos blogueiros, cujo símbolo de todos nós é o Quinta e seu condutor Juvêncio Arruda. Nosso desagravo e solidariedade.

Many issues that have become headlines in Pará, including the pedophilia investigation, appeared first on the blogosphere, which has Quinta and its blogger Juvêncio as its symbol. Our condolences and solidarity are with them.

Alan Souza [pt] confirms this type of silencing bloggers is a growing trend:

A moda infelizmente se alastra. O objetivo dos políticos é impedir que todos conheçam seus malfeitos. Por isso tentam censurar a livre opinião dos blogueiros…

The trend unfortunately has spread. These politicians’ goal is to prevent people knowing of their misdeeds. That's why they try to censor bloggers’ freedom of expression…

A growing trend

News of blogs being closed down, bloggers having to delete posts or receiving threats abound, appearing on a near monthly basis. In October last year, a policeman's blog and great source of police news, Flit Paralisante, was ordered to be deleted for no clear reason. According to Rodrigo Viana, it is believed that São Paulo's Governor José Serra had something to do with the decision:

Mas, qual a justificativa para tirar o “blog” do ar?
Cometeu crime? É proibido delegado escrever na internet?

O mais estranho é que na sexta-feira ainda, poucas horas depois do despacho do juiz, gente da Secretaria de Segurança Pública de São Paulo ligou para as redações “avisando”: olha o blog do delegado saiu do ar.

Por que tanta diligência, tanta pressa em dar a notícia? Esse é papel de Secretaria de Segurança?
A decisão do juiz foi dada sob encomenda para o governo Serra? Por isso, a secretaria estava comemorando?

But what was the justification for taking the “blog” down?
Did he commit a crime? Is it forbidden for a Chief of Police to write on the Internet?

The most strange thing is that even on Friday, just hours after the the court order, people of the Cabinet of Public Security of São Paulo called the news outlets “informing” them: look, the Chief of Police's blog has been taken down.

Why do they care so much, hurrying to break the news? Is this the role of the Security Cabinet?
Was the judge's decision an order from the Serra government? And therefore the Cabinet was celebrating?

Chief of Police Roberto Conde Guerra did not give up and started updating a new blog hosted on another platform [pt], which is an easy way to trick the prosecution system. However, in most cases the affected bloggers have no financial resources to pay for the court fees and decide just to stop blogging. Meme de Carbono [pt] analyses the case of some bloggers who paid the price for complaining online about services they had paid for and were not happy with: apparently, according to Brazilian laws, customers who complain online even if based on actual facts, and name and shame, can be sued for pain and suffering, slander and defamation. He says this only contributes to impunity:

A justiça está sendo usada como um manto de invisibilidade que protege maus profissionais assim como o Um Anel de Tolkien protegia e corrompia quem o usasse: a invisibilidade corrompe mais do que o poder.

Todo ser humano deve ter direito de reclamar quando se sentir mal atendido, deve ter o direito de alertar os outros (e não só os amigos) de riscos que eles correm. (…)

A mídia tradicional tem recursos e advogados para defender seus direitos, mas os cidadãos ficam acuados sem possibilidade de defesa caso não disponham de recursos o que, infelizmente, é comum. O caso do post reproduzido a seguir é justamente esse: a blogueira perdeu pois não podia pagar os custos para recorrer contra a decisão em primeira instância.

The justice system is being used as a cloak of invisibility that protects bad practitioners the same way that Tolkien's ring protected and corrupted whoever wore it: the invisibility corrupts more than the power.

Every human being should be entitled to complain when they feel poorly served, they should have the right to warn others (and not just their friends) of the risks they run. (…)

The traditional media has resources and lawyers to defend their rights, but citizens are cornered, unable to defend themselves if they have no resources, which, unfortunately, is common. The case of the post reproduced below is precisely this: the blogger lost because she could not pay the cost to appeal against the decision at first instance.

Alternatively, they may face court and prove they have not done anything wrong. In Rio Grande do Sul, A Nova Corja blog has had to delete parts of its posts and now the bloggers behind it face their second suit in one year because of a post they wrote back in June 2008. The first time, they won the case as the suit was rejected on the grounds of ineptitude. They are now expecting proceedings of the others, which are based on the same post:

As pessoas precisam aprender, de uma vez por todas, que entrar na Justiça não é forma de ganhar a vida. Hoje em dia, qualquer coisa é “dano moral, calúnia, difamação”. Parem com isso. Considerem trabalhar.

People need to learn once and for all that filing a suit is not a way to earn a living. Nowadays, everything is “pain and suffering, slander, defamation.” Stop it. Consider working.


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