CPJ condemns harassment of journalists in Brazil

São Paulo, April 22, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment of journalists reporting on corruption in the Brazilian state of Paraná and calls on authorities to ensure their safety. A Brazilian journalist has gone into hiding after receiving death threats, while at least four others from a daily news outlet said they have been constantly harassed by police, according to the reporters and their employers.

“It is disturbing that Brazilian journalists reporting on essential issues like police corruption continue to face death threats, harassment, and attempts to force them to reveal their sources,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Independent authorities must carry out an exhaustive investigation of these acts of intimidation–including any by local law enforcement–and ensure journalists are able to do their jobs.”

James Alberti, a producer for TV station RPCTV in the southern state of Paraná, fled the state after an unidentified man called the station on April 9 and said there were plans to assassinate the journalist and make it look like a robbery, according to news reports and local journalists’ and press freedom organizations. The Rede Paranaense de Comunicação (GRPCOM) media group, which owns RPCTV, said it took a series of measures to protect their journalists’ safety.

The threat came after RPCTV aired reports on alleged corruption and pedophilia inside the state government’s tax office in Londrina, a city approximately 240 miles from the state capital, Curitiba, GRPCOM said in a public statement. Alberti was the producer of the reports. The station aired dozens of reports on the topics, beginning in February and the most recent of which was this week, a GRPCOM official told CPJ. GRPCOM vowed not to stop its reporting, the statement added.

In the statement, GRPCOM also called on the federal police, the state police’s organized crime unit, and the state government to act immediately to protect its employees.

The State Secretariat for Public Security and the Administration of Penitentiaries, which oversees Paraná state’s military and civil police, told CPJ in a statement that it was aware of the threats to Alberti. “At the request of Governor Beto Richa, an investigation was opened to thoroughly look into the case,” the statement said.

Separately, four reporters affiliated with the daily Gazeta do Povo, which is also owned by GRPCOM in the city of Curitiba, have been harassed by law enforcement in connection with a series of stories they wrote in May 2012, according to the journalists and news reports. The journalists–Mauri König, Felippe Aníbal, Diego Ribeiro and Albari Rosa–wrote about corruption inside the Paraná state police forces.

König, who in 2012 was awarded CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, went into hiding in December 2012 for several months after receiving death threats related to the reports. Since then, he told CPJ, the military and civilian police forces launched investigations into the alleged corruption and called on König and his colleagues to help them with their probe.

But, König said, the investigation seemed to be more about discovering the source of the story than finding those involved in any wrongdoing. “They called us in under the pretext of hearing what we had to say so they could open an internal investigation,” König told CPJ on the phone, adding that he and his colleagues had been called in 14 times over two years. “But over time, we realized that what they really wanted was to discover our sources.”

Aníbal told CPJ that on March 31 he was called in by the sergeant leading the investigation. During the meeting, the sergeant brought a military policeman into the room and asked Aníbal if that officer was his source for the 2012 stories, the journalist said. Aníbal refused to answer and later posted about the incident on Facebook.

The State Secretariat said in a statement that it “vehemently repudiates any attempt, including by the police, to intimidate and embarrass journalists and citizens who report wrongdoing,” the daily O Globo reported. A press officer for the State Secretariat told CPJ that the state military and civil police had been ordered to limit their investigations into the facts of the cases rather than finding the source of the leaks.

In Brazil, journalists have long been targets for abuse and worse. CPJ research shows it is the 11th deadliest country for the press, with at least 31 journalists killed directly for their work since 1992, almost all of them targeted for murder. Brazil’s poor record of impunity adds to the violence and intimidation, CPJ research shows. In May 2014, CPJ released a report, which examined Brazil’s record on impunity in journalist murders; violence against journalists; censorship by the courts; and Internet freedom. A CPJ delegation presented President Dilma Rousseff with the report’s recommendations.

  • For more data and analysis on Brazil, visit CPJ’s Brazil page here.