Rio de Janeiro, March 11, 2021 – Brazilian authorities should not arrest sports blogger Paulo Cezar de Andrade Prado, and should reform the country’s defamation laws to ensure members of the press do not face imprisonment for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 23, the 26th Criminal Court of São Paulo state issued an arrest order to enforce a five-month prison sentence for Prado, who covers sports and politics on his blog Blog do Paulinho, in relation to a criminal defamation case that has been ongoing since 2016, according to Prado and his lawyer Daniel Casagrande, who each spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.
Prado filed a request for the prison sentence to be suspended or converted to house arrest, citing the health risk of imprisonment during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on March 8 Judge Marcos Vieira de Morais of the 26th Criminal Court denied that request, according to Prado, Casagrande, and the judge’s decision, which CPJ reviewed.
Brazil is currently facing a surge in COVID-19 cases and a record-high daily number of deaths, according to news reports.
Casagrande told CPJ there is no further opportunity to appeal the March 8 decision and that the arrest order could be enforced at any moment. Prado told CPJ that he has not been taken into custody as of today.
“The decision to send journalist Paulo Cezar de Andrade Prado to prison on criminal defamation charges during the height of a deadly pandemic in Brazil is not only a violation of press freedom, it is endangering his life,” said CPJ’s Central and South America program coordinator, Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Brazil’s outdated criminal defamation laws are a real threat to press freedom and journalist safety, and should be eliminated in line with international standards.”
In October 2016, Paulo Sérgio Menezes Garcia, a business owner and board member of the Brazilian soccer team Corínthians Sports Club, filed a criminal defamation suit against Prado, in response to a September 2016 article on his blog about political donations that Garcia and his company allegedly made in municipal and national elections in 2014 and 2016, Prado said.
In March 2018, the 26th Criminal Court convicted Prado in that case and sentenced him to seven months and seven days in prison, the blogger and his lawyer told CPJ.
The journalist appealed the ruling and, in June 2019, the 12th Chamber of Criminal Law, an appeals court in São Paulo, upheld the conviction but reduced his sentence to five months and thirteen days in prison, according to Casagrande and court documents reviewed by CPJ.
Casagrande told CPJ that, in August 2020, he filed a new lawsuit requesting that Garcia’s suit be reviewed and annulled, but said Brazilian federal courts had not ruled on it.
Prado told CPJ that he felt criminal lawsuits for slander and defamation “are tools for intimidating journalists” and that “treating the free expression of thought as a crime is a mistake, is in conflict with the Constitution, and is something that needs to be changed in Brazilian legislation.”
According to Article 139 of the Brazilian penal code, defamation is punishable with prison terms ranging from three months to one year.
Cecília Abbati, an employee of the press office of the São Paulo State Court, responded to CPJ’s request for comment on the case with an email stating, “the Court of Justice does not issue statements on jurisdictional issues, as judges have functional independence to decide according to the documents on file and their free conviction.”
CPJ emailed Judge Marcus Vieira de Morais, the 26th Criminal Court, and the 12th Criminal Law Chamber, but received no responses.
CPJ also emailed the press offices of Kalunga, Garcia’s company, and the Corínthians Sports Club in an attempt to reach Paulo Garcia, but did not receive any responses.
“Since I’ve been sentenced before, it’s like working daily with a knife at my neck. Any new sentence for criminal defamation will send me to prison,” Prado told CPJ.
Over the last year, CPJ has repeatedly urged world leaders to release all journalists imprisoned for their work, particularly in light of the threat of contracting COVID-19 in jail. Prado has previously contracted pulmonary and pleural tuberculosis and pneumonia, and currently suffers from hypertension, increasing his risk of severe health problems if exposed to COVID-19, the blogger and his lawyer told CPJ.