New York, May 12, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the Brazilian Ministry of Justice’s decision to revoke the visa of New York Times Brazil correspondent Larry Rohter. The move came after Rohter wrote an article about the drinking habits of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula.” Rohter is currently abroad, according to local news reports.
A short press release posted yesterday, May 11, on the Ministry of Justice’s Web site and signed by Interim Minister of Justice Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto, said officials had decided to cancel Rohter’s visa under Article 26 of Law 6815 due to “a frivolous and misleading report that is offensive to the honor of the President of the Federal Republic of Brazil with grave damage to the image of the nation abroad.”
Under Article 26 of Law 6815, an immigration law that defines the legal status of foreigners in Brazil, the arrival, stay, or registration of a foreigner may be blocked if the Ministry of Justice deems his or her presence in the country “inconvenient.”
In a New York Times article published on May 9 titled “Brazilian Leader’s Tippling Becomes National Concern,” Rohter wrote that some Brazilians were concerned that Lula’s alleged heavy drinking was affecting his performance in office. In the article, Rohter also cited Lula’s staff and supporters, who dismissed speculation that Lula drinks excessively.
The article generated a strong reaction from the Brazilian government. In a letter to the editor sent yesterday to The New York Times, Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur wrote, “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a respected leader and statesman in Brazil and all over the world.” Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, “This is not about freedom of speech. … We never acted against anyone who criticized Brazil’s internal or foreign policy, but it is another thing to offend the honor of the chief of state.”
“As a public figure, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should expect and tolerate scrutiny from the press, both about his policies and his conduct in office,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The Brazilian government’s action sends a chilling signal, both to the foreign media and the Brazilian press, about the government’s intolerance of critical reporting. We urge the Brazilian government to allow Rohter to remain in Brazil and continue working.”