Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 2021 – Authorities in Rio de Janeiro should immediately drop a criminal investigation into journalist Leandro Demori, and stop using the threat of criminal charges to intimidate journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 12, the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Unit for Repression of Cyber Crimes (DRCI) opened a criminal slander investigation into Demori, executive editor of the independent investigative outlet The Intercept Brasil, according to news reports, police documents reviewed by CPJ, and Demori and his lawyer Rafael Borges, both of whom spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.
Borges told CPJ that the investigation stems from a May 8 Intercept Brasil newsletter by Demori, later republished on The Intercept Brasil’s website, about a deadly police operation in Rio de Janeiro, as well as Demori’s tweets about that newsletter, which authorities allege slandered the police.
If charged and convicted of slander under Article 138 of the Brazilian penal code, Demori could face a fine and six months to two years in prison.
“Authorities in Rio de Janeiro should immediately drop their investigation into The Intercept Brasil Executive Editor Leandro Demori and refrain from using police investigations to intimidate journalists,” said CPJ’s Central and South America program coordinator, Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Investigative journalists play a crucial role in documenting police abuses in Brazil, and they should be able to do so without fear of reprisal from the same security forces they are investigating.”
On May 27, the DRCI issued a summons for Demori to appear for a deposition on May 31, according to a copy of the summons, which CPJ reviewed. Demori and Borges told CPJ that they postponed the deposition until June 10, but then decided not to attend, fearing that the questioning could endanger the confidentiality of Demori’s sources.
The summons states that failure to appear for questioning could constitute a crime under Article 330 of the penal code, which can carry penalties of 15 days to six months in prison.
“It looks like an investigation to intimidate me,” Demori told CPJ. “Instead of investigating what we denounced [about deadly policing operations], the state decides to investigate the person who reported on it, the journalist. It concerns us that this is becoming a pattern in Brazil.”
The Intercept Brasil published a statement on June 10 saying that “threats like this will not intimidate us,” and that Brazil’s “Constitution guarantees freedom of the press and protects confidentiality of the source.”
CPJ emailed the Rio de Janeiro state government and the Civil Police for comment, but did not receive any replies. On June 18, the press office of the Rio de Janeiro state public prosecutor’s office said it needed more time to respond to CPJ’s emailed queries; the office had not responded by the time of publication.
In December 2020, the DRCI summoned TV Globo journalists William Bonner and Renata Vasconcellos and accused them of the crime of “disobedience” in their reporting on alleged corruption, according to news reports.