Court upholds criminal defamation conviction of Brazilian radio host

New York, April 7, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists is disappointed by the decision issued by a Brazilian court last week to uphold the criminal defamation conviction of radio journalist Fabiano Gomes da Silva.

A court in the northern state of Paraíba on March 29 unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision to find Gomes, a host on Rádio 98 FM, guilty of defamation and calúnia, (falsely accusing someone of illegal acts), according to a statement detailing the ruling. Three judges unanimously upheld the conviction made on June 18, 2015, the journalist’s lawyer, Bruno Lopes, told CPJ in an emailed response to questions.

The nine-month and 10-day jail sentence was commuted to community service and a fine that the court will calculate at a later date, Lopes said. The community service will last for the length of the jail sentence originally handed down, he added.

“Although we are relieved that Fabiano Gomes da Silva will not spend time in jail, the conviction for defamation should never have happened in the first place,” said CPJ Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas Carlos Lauría. “We call on Brazilian authorities to bring the country’s laws into line with inter-American standards on free expression by eliminating all criminal penalties for defamation.”

The court statement said that radio host Gomes “clearly and evidently” directed insults at Eduardo de Oliveira Carlos da Silva, the proprietor of Grupo São Braz, a conglomerate of companies that includes car dealers, coffee and snack makers, three local television stations, and the newspaper Jornal de Paraíba. The insults were made with “the intention of offending his honor,” said José Guedes Cavalcanti Neto, one of the judges who was cited in the statement.

The defamation case comes from comments Gomes made on his talk radio show “Correio Debate,” which were broadcast on August 19, 2011, reports said.

Gomes and his radio station did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment, sent via email and social media. On March 30 he issued a statement on his blog defending his reporting and vowing not to be silenced. “I repeat what I said in court: I did not defame him or injure him,” Gomes wrote. “What I said I said publicly about an entrepreneur, not a citizen, a son, a husband or a father.”

Carlos da Silva did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment. The businessman’s lawyer, quoted in Jornal de Paraíba, the newspaper which is owned by his conglomerate, said similar suits brought against Gomes by Carlos da Silva are awaiting trial. If Gomes is sentenced in any of them he runs the risk of serving time in prison, the lawyer said.

Although Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal in 2009 annulled a press law that imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander, criminal penalties for defamation and slander are still included in the penal code. Brazil is one of many countries in the Americas that continue to use criminal defamation laws to silence criticism, according to a comparative study of laws prepared for CPJ by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and launched in February. The report “Critics Are Not Criminals” can be viewed here.