Brazilian newspaper faces judicial harassment

São Paulo, June 20, 2016–A series of court cases filed against journalists and employees at the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo constitute judicial harassment and should be dropped immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Judicial officials in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná have filed 46 individual civil suits against five employees at Gazeta do Povo since March, a representative of the newspaper told CPJ.

The court cases all center on a series of reports, published in Gazeta do Povo on February 15-17, 2016, alleging that judges, magistrates, and district attorneys in the state were earning more than the constitutionally imposed ceiling by adding benefits, bonuses, back pay, and other additional payments. All the remunerations were legitimate and reported openly by the authorities on their websites, the paper said.

The Paraná Magistrates Association (AMAPAR) said in a statement sent to reporters and seen by CPJ that it considered the reports “offensive” and that judges across the state experienced “some kind of unpleasantness or embarrassment caused by the popular outrage over the super salaries.”

Officials in the southern state launched a series of court cases that the newspaper claims seeks to intimidate the five employees who worked on the series. Judges, magistrates, and district attorneys filed all but one of the 46 individual court cases alleging “invasion of privacy” in small claims courts, Fernanda Yanaze Maia, spokesperson for Gazeta do Povo, told CPJ.

CPJ has documented how civil suits lead to press censorship in Brazil. Courts have often ruled in favor of the hundreds of political figures, government officials, and businessmen who have filed cases alleging that critical journalists have violated their privacy and honor, imposing fines or ordering newspapers to delete the offending content.

“We urge officials in Paraná to drop any suits against employees of Gazeta do Povo related to reports on judicial pay,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas at CPJ. “Such harassment is a threat to the essential reporting that holds the courts and public officials to account in Brazil.”

Almost all the suits ask for the maximum, 35,200-real (US$10,365) damage award allowed in small-claims courts, Yanaze Maia said. She said the suits were almost identical in wording and content, leading the newspaper to believe they were coordinated.

Frederico Mendes Júnior, the president of AMAPAR, sent an audio message to association members soon after the reports first appeared, encouraging members to “take joint action.” He said AMAPAR was “looking at a model for individual suits filed by many people.”

AMAPAR confirmed to CPJ that the recording was genuine, but in a statement sent to journalists last week, Mendes maintained that the suits filed since were not coordinated.

“There is no attempt to intimidate but there is a use of a constitutional right that is the right to take action,” the statement said. “There is no coordinated action by AMAPAR.”

The suits named journalists Chico Marés, Euclides Lucas Garcia, and Rogério Galindo, as well as systems analyst Evandro Balmant and designer Guilherme Storck, Gazeta do Povo said. They were filed in different towns and cities in order to be troublesome for the defendants, the paper claimed. The five have together traveled more than 3,700 miles across the state and have missed a combined total of 19 days of work while attending court dates, the paper said.

The paper and the five employees who worked on the project were awarded the National Association of Newspaper’s 2016 Freedom of the Press Award last week.

Separately, last month, two judges in Paraná ordered blogger Marcelo Auler to remove 10 articles from his website on the grounds that they offend police officers taking part in a federal corruption investigation.