São Paulo, February 15, 2017–A judge ordered two of Brazil’s biggest national dailies, Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo, to remove stories from their websites about a court case of a hacker convicted of attempted blackmail of Brazil’s first lady, Marcela Temer, according to reports in both papers.
Both dailies complied with the order that a judge in Brasilia granted February 13, after lawyers for President Michel Temer’s wife, Marcela, filed a request for an injunction on February 10, arguing that the reports violated her privacy, the press reported.
“The judicial decision that forced the Brazilian newspapers Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo to remove content is an act of censorship and should be reversed on appeal,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Brazilians have the right to be informed about issues of clear public interest.”
The injunction centered on reports about a court case of a Brazilian found guilty in October of attempting to extort Marcela Temer after hacking her cell phone in April 2016, according to press reports. The court documents were placed under a secrecy order, known as “Segredo de Justiça” often used in sensitive cases in Brazil, press reports said. After that type of order is lifted, the information becomes public.
When the order in the court case was lifted, Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo published details about it, including WhatsApp messages between the blackmailer and Marcela Temer, according to The Intercept.
Folha de S.Paulo received a judicial order over its coverage on February 10, the same date it published a report on the case. O Globo reported on February 13 that it had removed an article about the court case after receiving a judicial order.
The judicial order requires the newspapers to refrain from publishing any future material about the case, including details of the blackmail messages sent to Marcela Temer, according to press reports. The newspapers were told if they continued to publish they could face a fine of R$50,000 (around US$16,300), Folha de S.Paulo said in an article about the case.
According to the Associated Press, Folha de S.Paulo’s legal director Orlando Molina said he will appeal what he described as an attack on freedom of speech. O Globo will also appeal the decision, according to reports.
When the blackmailer approached his wife, Temer was acting president and poised to take over the presidency, according to The Associated Press. At the time, Brazil’s parliament was debating impeaching his running mate, then President Dilma Rousseff.
Temer denies that the injunction amounted to censorship, his spokesman said. The spokesman told reporters the president has a “permanent and unwavering” commitment to a free press, according to O Globo.
Several of Brazil’s press groups, including the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, the National Association of Magazine Editors, the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television, the National Association of Newspapers, and the Brazilian Press Association, decried the decision as dangerous and unwarranted censorship.
The Intercept reported about the injunction and published extracts from the court hearings, saying that the public deserved to know details of the case. The outlet vowed to fight any take down requests.
“We regard judicial orders directing newspapers to delete their news reporting, obtained by a political official, to be as grave a threat to press freedom as can be envisioned, and we would fight it to the fullest extent possible,” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, told CPJ.
UPDATE: An appeals court overturned the injunction against Folha de S.Paulo late on February 15, 2017, according to O Globo.