New York, May 7, 2009--The Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal's decision to strike down the 1967 Press Law, a measure that imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander, is a crucial step forward in the campaign to eliminate criminal defamation laws in the Americas, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ and other groups had long urged that the anachronistic law be removed from the books.
Adopted under the military dictatorship that ruled
Brazilian journalists can still be jailed for up to two years under criminal defamation laws that remain in the penal code. "We urge Brazilian authorities to continue in the spirit of this ruling and repeal all remaining criminal defamation laws," added Lauría.
The 1967 Press Law had been used to systematically harass critical journalists. Criminal defamation lawsuits against the Brazilian media have numbered in the thousands over the last five years, according to CPJ research and news reports. Businessmen, politicians, and public officials file multiple lawsuits against news outlets and journalists as a way to pressure them, strain their financial resources, and force them to halt their criticisms.
One notable case is Lúcio Flávio Pinto, editor of
semimonthly newspaper Jornal Pessoal and a 2005 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. Pinto, based
in the city of
As part of a systematic campaign aimed at eliminating
criminal defamation laws in
In February 2008, the high court ruled that 22 of the Press Law's articles were incompatible with the 1988 constitution, which guarantees free expression and prohibits censorship. The tribunal suspended the articles until it could take a final look at the constitutionality of the law this year.
The new decision supplements the growing body of
international legal opinion that journalists should not be jailed for criminal
defamation. In September 2004, the
In an August 2004 ruling that overturned the criminal
defamation conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio
Herrera Ulloa, the
And in April 2007, Mexican President Felipe Calderón
a bill that effectively eliminated criminal libel and slander at the
federal level, directing such complaints to the civil courts.