Brazilian outlet AzMina faces criminal complaints, online harassment over abortion article

September 25, 2019 1:40 PM ET

Damares Alves, Brazil’s minister for women, family, and human rights (center) is seen with then Brazilian Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge and President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia on March 8, 2019. Alves recently filed a complaint against online outlet AzMina. (Reuters/Adriano Machado)

Rio de Janeiro, September 25, 2019 -- Brazilian authorities should investigate harassment against AzMina magazine and its journalists, and should refrain from prosecuting the outlet or its journalists for their reporting on abortion, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 18, AzMina, a São Paulo-based online magazine that covers women’s rights, published an article explaining safe methods for obtaining an abortion and the circumstances under which abortion is legal in Brazil, based on reporting and information from the World Health Organization.

The following day, Damares Alves, Brazil’s minister for women, family, and human rights, tweeted that the article was “absurd” and promoted a crime. According to a statement the prosecutor’s office sent CPJ via email, Alves filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of São Paulo, which has the power to decide whether to press charges against the magazine.

If charged and found guilty of “promotion of a crime” under Article 287 of Brazil’s criminal code, the AzMina journalists could be sentenced to a prison term of three to six months, or a fine. Under the criminal code, abortion is illegal with very few exceptions, and women found to have obtained abortions can face one to three years in jail.

Since the article was published, two reporters at AzMina have had their names, photos, and home addresses shared on Twitter by unidentified accounts and, on September 20, the website was knocked offline for several hours, according to AzMina Executive Director Carolina Oms, who spoke to CPJ by phone. Oms told CPJ that the outlet and its reporters have received aggressive messages on Twitter and Facebook since the article’s publication, calling them “killers” and saying they should be criminally prosecuted.

“Reporting on public health issues--even sensitive ones--is not a crime, and AzMina and its journalists should not face harassment, much less potential legal action, simply for an article on abortion access,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Authorities should focus on investigating the serious harassment against AzMina and its reporters, rather than treating the journalists as criminals.”

The press office of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights emailed a statement to CPJ saying that it had forwarded complaints about the article to the ombudsman of the Public Prosecutor's Office of São Paulo. The statement also said, “It must be clarified that constitutionally no freedom is absolute and that even the press is subject to the scrutiny of controlling institutions.”

On September 19, AzMina published a statement standing by the article, saying, “We have not committed any crime. We just did our job.”

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