São Paulo, March 24, 2017–A police search of Brazilian blogger Carlos Eduardo Cairo Guimarães’ residence and electronic devices to uncover the sources for a story he had published was an alarming violation of journalists’ right to protect their sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police raided Guimarães’ home in São Paulo early on March 21 and confiscated his laptop, mobile phone, and his wife’s mobile phone before escorting him to the Federal Police headquarters for questioning regarding his sources for a February story in which he reported that police were planning to question former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in connection with a wide-ranging corruption investigation.
Police also suspected that the blogger– who publishes the leftist blog Blog da Cidadania and who unsuccessfully ran for the São Paulo city council last October as a member of the Communist Party of Brazil—had alerted suspects in the case in advance that the police were planning to detain them for questioning. In a March 21 statement, Brazil’s Public Ministry alleged that the blogger had “directly informed suspects of judicial measures that were secret and about to be implemented.”
Article 5 of Brazil’s constitution affirms journalists’ right to protect their sources.
“A journalist’s right to protect sources for a story is one of basic tenets of the profession, and is enshrined in the Brazilian constitution,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “We are concerned that the raid on the home of Carlos Eduardo Cairo Guimarães could send a chilling message to journalists.”
Brazilian journalists’ unions and advocacy groups reacted angrily to the move. The National Federation of Journalists called it “a violation of rights inspired by the era of military dictatorship.” Others, including the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism and the advocacy group Article 19, likewise called detaining Guimarães and searching his electronic devices attacks on freedom of speech and journalism.
Guimarães’ lawyer, Fernando Hideo Lacerda, said that the search warrant and compulsory questioning were “clearly illegal” and a “violation of [Guimarães’] right to freedom of expression and to protect sources…which are constitutionally guaranteed and necessary for the work of journalism,” in remarks reported by the Brazilian press. He said that police offered him no information about his client’s whereabouts and began the interrogation without waiting for Lacerda to arrive.
The office of Judge Sergio Moro, who is spearheading the corruption investigation, yesterday acknowledged the concerns about freedom of speech and journalists’ right to protect their sources.
In a statement sent to CPJ, the office said Moro had had reviewed his position “to better frame the object of the case,” and that any evidence obtained while searching Guimarães’ home or electronics related to identifying sources of information “should be excluded from the case.”
In the statement, Moro, who maintained that Guimarães was not a journalist but a politician and businessman who used his blog to publicize his political views, claimed Guimarães willingly gave up his sources when interviewed by police, but said that the testimony about the blogger’s sources would be excluded from evidence.
In a statement sent to CPJ yesterday, Lacerda denied that Guimarães had given up his sources in questioning.