More than 50 civil defamation suits filed against daily and reporter

FEBRUARY 18, 2008
Posted March 10, 2008

Elvira Lobato, Folha de S. Paulo

At least 54 individual members of a Brazilian church have filed civil defamation suits in different cities across the country against the national daily Folha de S. Paulo and Lobato, its business reporter. The plaintiffs claim the reporter and the newspaper offended their faith, the daily’s lawyers told CPJ.

From December 2007 to February 2008, 54 members of the neo-Pentecostal movement Universal Church of the Kingdom of God filed suits against Lobato and Folha de S. Paulo under articles 49 and 75 of Brazil’s 1967 press law. The members lived in various cities within the states of Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Acre, Amazonas and Paraíba. According to Folha de S. Paulo’s lawyers, the plaintiffs say the journalist and the daily offended their faith in a December 2007 story. Lobato’s article claimed the church uses a company located in a tax haven to channel fees paid by followers to 19 businesses owned by the church, which include television and radio stations, newspapers, travel agencies, and real estate. The plaintiffs are requesting financial compensation ranging from 1,000 to 14,000 Brazilian reais (approximately US$600 to US$8,000).

Several hearings were held on February 18 in cities across Brazil. Seven judges who have ruled on the suits dismissed the cases. In January, Bataguassú judge Edinaldo Muniz dos Santos said the suits were judicial harassment, according to local news reports.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God claims it has no links to the grievances, the paper’s lawyer Taís Gasparian told the Brazilian press. However, the lawyer also said that all the suits use the same wording and even some of the same quotes.