Brazilian journalist Bárbara Barbosa was recently attacked along with camera operator Renato Soder in the southern city of Florianópolis. (Photo: Bárbara Barbosa)

Brazilian journalists threatened, assaulted while covering pandemic lockdown

Rio de Janeiro, November 4, 2020 — Brazilian authorities must promptly investigate the harassment of journalist Bárbara Barbosa and camera operator Renato Soder and ensure the press can work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In the morning of November 2, in the southern city of Florianópolis, a group of about nine unidentified men and women harassed and threatened NSC TV employees Barbosa and Soder while they were preparing a report on noncompliance of the area’s COVID-19 lockdown, according to news reports and Barbosa, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

One man slapped Barbosa’s hand as she held her phone, and a woman then grabbed the journalist’s phone while men took her wrists and restrained her, Barbosa told CPJ. The group threatened to break Soder’s camera and steal Barbosa’s phone unless they stopped filming and left the area, Barbosa said.

Barbosa told CPJ the woman returned her phone after about 10 minutes, and that she and Soder then left the scene. Barbosa said she received scratches on her arms but was not seriously injured.

The Santa Catarina state civil police told CPJ in an email that an investigation had been opened into the incident, Barbosa and Soder had given testimonies, and two suspects have been identified.

 “It is vital that journalists be able to freely and safely report on all matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Brazilian authorities must promptly and thoroughly investigate the intimidation and harassment of journalist Bárbara Barbosa and camera operator Renato Soder, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Barbosa and Soder had planned to cover residents’ noncompliance with local decrees restricting activity on city beaches due to the coronavirus pandemic, Barbosa said.

She said they had just arrived at Campeche beach when the group approached them, yelling that they could not film there. Barbosa said none of the people in the group wore masks. After her phone was returned, one of the men threatened Barbosa, saying, “If you publish this, I will destroy you,” she said.

“When we arrive at some places, people start yelling and calling us names. ‘Globo trash,’ ‘cry Globo,’ ‘[President] Bolsonaro will destroy you,’ and things like that,” said Barbosa, whose employer is an affiliate of national privately owned broadcaster Globo TV.

The journalist also told CPJ that, after the incident was reported by local media, she received hostile messages to her Instagram account, calling her “ridiculous” and telling her to stop covering the coronavirus and cover “real stories.”