Journalist gets 18 months detention on defamation charge

New York, May 17, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the criminal defamation conviction of Brazilian sports commentator Jorge Kajuru, who will soon begin serving 18 months of overnight detention.

Kajuru, whose real name is Jorge Reis da Costa, has been ordered to stay at a prison dormitory in Goiânia, capital of central Goiás state, every night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning May 28. He may not leave Goiânia at any time without a judge’s approval. The restrictions will interfere with Kajuru’s ability to work; he is based in São Paulo, where he lives and works for the television network SBT.

The criminal defamation lawsuit against Kajuru stemmed from comments he made in January 2001 on the Goiânia-based Rádio K, which he then owned. Kajuru alleged that television station TV Anhanguera, the affiliate of television network Rede Globo in Goiás, had won the rights to broadcast the Goiás state soccer championship because of its close relationship to the state government.

The media group Organizações Jaime Câmara, which owns TV Anhanguera as well as several newspapers and radio stations, and its president, Jaime Câmara Júnior, filed several criminal complaints against Kajuru claiming their honor and reputation had been damaged.

Judge Alvarino Egídio da Silva Primo, of the 12th Criminal District of Goiânia, found Kajuru guilty of criminal defamation in June 2003. Kajuru’s lawyers filed several appeals before the Goiás State Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice—Brazil’s second highest court—but his conviction was upheld. In March, the Goiás State Court of Justice ordered that the sentence be carried out. Terms of the sentence were set at an April 28 court hearing.

Kajuru’s lawyers said they would request that their client be allowed to serve his sentence in São Paulo, according to local news reports. Another judge would hear that request.

Kajuru is known as an outspoken commentator whose views have sparked controversy. He faces scores of other civil and criminal defamation lawsuits stemming from his comments.

“It’s outrageous that a journalist would go to jail for expressing an opinion on a subject of clear public interest,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The threat of criminal prosecution, along with other forms of legal harassment, is an affront to Brazil’s robust independent press.”

While imprisonment for press offenses has essentially been eliminated in Latin America, prosecutions on criminal defamation charges remain common. In August 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced a ruling overturning the 1999 criminal defamation conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, a reporter with the daily La Nación. The Costa Rica–based court ruled that the sentence violated his right to freedom of expression and ordered Costa Rica to pay damages to him. The court’s president, Judge Sergio García Ramírez, wrote a separate, concurring opinion questioning the criminalization of defamation and suggesting that such laws should be repealed.