Journalist charged with criminal defamation

New York, September 13, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about Brazilian journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto, who faces several criminal and civil lawsuits because of his reporting from the Amazon rain forest in Brazil’s northern state of Pará.

Lúcio Flávio, as he is known in Brazil, is a well-respected free-lance reporter based in Belém, the capital of Pará. He writes the column “Carta da Amazônia” (Letter from the Amazon) for the São Paulo­based daily O Estado de S. Paulo and was the publisher and editor for more than 14 years of the small, Belém-based fortnightly Jornal Pessoal, which ceased publication this July.

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 has 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.

“Journalists should never face criminal charges for doing their jobs,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We believe these lawsuits are an attempt to harass an experienced journalist who is reporting on issues of grave public concern.”

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.