Police are seen in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 4, 2020. Police recently opened a criminal investigation into journalist Rafael Ventura. (AP/Andre Penner)

Brazilian police open criminal investigation into journalist Rafael Ventura for slander and defamation

Rio de Janeiro, June 26, 2020 — Brazilian authorities should drop a criminal investigation into journalist Rafael Ventura and refrain from investigating reporters for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On April 1, police in Ribeirão Pires, in São Paulo state, opened a criminal slander and defamation inquiry into Ventura, editor of the Diário de Ribeirão Pires news website and weekly newspaper, following a complaint by a local official, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Ricardo Orsini, the municipal secretary for urban services in Ribeirão Pires, filed the complaint after Ventura reported on a February 21 car accident involving Orsini, according to those reports.

In testimony given to the police on April 16, which CPJ reviewed, Orsini did not dispute Ventura’s reporting that he was driving a car that struck and killed a cyclist, but claimed that coverage had negatively affected him, saying he could not go out anymore. In his testimony, Orsini accused Ventura of trying to damage his honor and reputation, and alleged that he attributed a homicide to him.

If charged and convicted, Ventura could face up two years imprisonment for slander and up to one year for defamation, according to the Brazilian penal code. Ventura said he did not find out about the criminal inquiry until May. Orsini also filed a civil suit, Ventura said.

“Journalists should not face criminal investigations simply for reporting on public information,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Brazilian law enforcement should close the criminal inquiry into Rafael Ventura and leave defamation cases to the civil courts.”

The press office of the Brazilian Public Security Secretary emailed CPJ a statement confirming that the police in Ribeirão Pires has opened a criminal investigation into alleged slander and defamation. The statement said the inquiry was still ongoing, and that authorities had not yet interviewed Ventura.

According to local news reports, the local government of Ribeirão Pires confirmed that Orsini was the driver in the incident.

“In the articles, we didn’t make any prior judgement about the run over incident, we only published the facts. We didn’t lie about anything. Everything that is there we can prove,” Ventura said.

Ventura told CPJ that, since he reported on the incident, he and Diário de Ribeirão Pires have received insulting comments and threatening messages online.

“In May, on the outlet’s Facebook page, I received a death threat with someone saying they would shoot me in the head and show my family a picture of me, dead,” he said.

Ventura told CPJ he reported the threat to the civil police for investigation.

CPJ emailed the municipal government of Ribeirão Pires for comment, but did not receive any response.

CPJ called the secretary of urban services in an attempt to reach Orsini. A representative who identified herself as Gislaine answered and said that CPJ’s request for comment had been passed on to Orsini on June 24, but CPJ did not receive any response from him.

Brazilian authorities have repeatedly used the country’s outdated criminal defamation laws to pressure journalists in recent years, according to CPJ research.