On November 21, 2019, Brazilian regional news website Planeta Folha published a report uncovering a previously unreported criminal defamation lawsuit against journalists Donizete Bernardo dos Santos and Josias Brito da Silva.
On August 22, the Regional Electoral Court of Rondônia State, in northern Brazil, sentenced dos Santos and da Silva, journalists affiliated with regional news outlet Jornal Correio do Vale, to four months in prison and a fine for defamation, according to that report.
Under Brazil’s Electoral Code, the crime of defamation with electoral purposes carries a sentence of three months to a year in prison, as well as a fine.
The judge overseeing the case substituted community service for the prison sentence and fine, meaning the journalists will not face jail time or be forced to pay, according to the court decision and the Planeta Folha report.
The defamation suit stemmed from a complaint filed against dos Santos and da Silva by Jaquelini Gois, a former mayoral candidate in the town of Costa Marques, according to local news reports. Gois claimed that a September 2016 article in Jornal Correio do Vale alleging that she had previously been under investigation for corruption was inaccurate and contributed to her losing the election, according to the court decision.
CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Gois.
Dos Santos is the CEO and founder of Jornal Correio do Vale, he told CPJ in a phone interview. Da Silva was chief editor of the outlet from 2013 to 2017 and is now chief editor of another local print daily, he told CPJ via phone.
In its August decision, the electoral court concluded that the article was "offensive to the honor and reputation of the candidate," constituted "negative electoral propaganda" against her, and that “the journalistic piece has entered the field of offense, and was not about political criticisms.”
Dos Santos and da Silva were originally sentenced to four months in prison by the Local Electoral Court and appealed to the Regional Electoral Court, which upheld the conviction in August. On September 2, 2019, the judicial process formally ended, finalizing the sentence with no further appeals possible, according to court documents.
Da Silva told CPJ that Jornal Correio do Vale simply republished the article in question, and said it had already been published by two other news outlets in Rondônia. He told CPJ the other outlets had not been sued, and said he did not know why.
Da Silva told CPJ that he was worried about how this sentencing could negatively affect his ability to work as a journalist, including the possibility he could lose his accreditation or that outlets would not hire him in the future.