Rio de Janeiro Military Police Lieutenant-Colonel Gabryela Dantas is seen in a video published by the police force criticizing and insulting journalist Rafael Soares. (YouTube)

Rio de Janeiro Military Police publish video criticizing, insulting journalist Rafael Soares

In the evening of December 8, 2020, the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro published a video on its website and official YouTube and Twitter accounts in response to an article that Rafael Soares, a security reporter for national newspapers O Globo and Extra, had published previously that day.

Soares’ article concerned a Military Police unit under investigation for its alleged involvement in the killing of two children in the city of Duque de Caxias, in Rio de Janeiro state, and the increased use of ammunition by that unit.

In the video, Lieutenant-Colonel Gabryela Dantas, a Rio de Janeiro Military Police spokesperson, refers to Soares’ piece as a “totally irresponsible inference that, in addition to being a complete lie, is cowardly and unscrupulous.”

Dantas said that Soares “takes advantage of a national uproar [about the killings] to pit the population against the police,” and called on viewers to share the video.

The police agency’s tweet of the video has been taken down since CPJ reviewed it on December 9, and CPJ was able to access the video on the Military Police website from a computer in Brazil, but could not load the webpage from the United States. The YouTube video remained online at the time of publication.

When it was posted, the tweet described the video as the “official position of the Military Police about the lying report published in Globo Group newspapers by journalist Rafael Soares.”

Fabiana Poubel and Daniel Silveira, members of the right-wing Partido Social Liberal party in the House of Representatives and licensed Military Police officers in Rio de Janeiro, both tweeted about the video with additional critical comments about Soares.

Editora Globo, the publisher of O Globo and Extra, issued a statement condemning the video and saying that it was “not the role of a State institution to personally attack a [media] professional nor to incite the population against him.”

In a tweet, the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) said that the video demonstrated  a “clear objective to intimidate the reporter,” and called on the governor of Rio de Janeiro state to respond.

A representative of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police press office responded to CPJ’s emailed request for comment with a statement saying that the agency “strongly repudiates the fallacious article by the newspaper Extra, developed by Rafael Soares,” and described the reporting as “incompatible with the truth and biased.”

The representative alleged that Soares “decided to publish untruths, compromising the reputation of the Military Police as well as that of the police officers belonging to the unit mentioned in the article.”

On December 9, Rio de Janeiro Acting Governor Cláudio Castro ordered Dantas to be removed from her position as Military Police spokesperson, according to news reports.

In an email to CPJ on the evening of December 9, Rio de Janeiro state government spokesperson Carolina Perez referred CPJ to a tweet by Acting Governor Castro and to a statement on the Rio de Janeiro Military Police website.

In his tweet, Castro said, “I defend the dialogue with the press. The debate of ideas is important, but both sides must be respected and preserved.”

In its statement, the police said that officers are “constantly under critical evaluation from parts of the society, including the press.” The police force added that “in personalizing its dissatisfaction in one reporter, it [the Military Police] has crossed a limit that hurt the balance of its own performance. We acknowledge the value of freedom of the press.” 

[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include the response from the Rio de Janeiro state government.]