São Paulo, November 22, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Brazil’s courts to overturn a one-year jail sentence given to journalist Schirlei Alves for her reporting on the mistreatment of a woman during a high-profile rape trial.
On November 15, Alves, a freelance journalist, was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a fine of Brazilian real 400,000 (US$81,692) for defamation of Judge Rudson Marcos and Prosecutor Thiago Carriço de Oliveira, who were involved in a 2020 rape trial brought by digital influencer Mariana Ferrer, according to multiple news sources.
Ferrer alleged that she was drugged and raped at a party in 2018 by a wealthy businessman. During the trial, the accused’s defense attorney tried to blame Ferrer by producing sensual photographs that she had taken as a model, which he described as “gynecological,” accused her of “fake crying,” and thanked God that she was not his daughter, Alves reported in The Intercept Brasil and ND+.
The defendant was acquitted.
In a preliminary ruling in December 2020, a court ordered The Intercept Brazil and ND+ to “rectify” their reporting after Oliveira alleged that Alves had defamed him. The judge’s ruling instructed the outlets to add specific language to their reporting, which she provided, highlighting that Judge Marcos did make interventions to maintain order and that Oliveira, as lead prosecutor in the case, warned the defense lawyer about his line of questioning.
The case sparked a national outcry and led to the passing in 2021 of the Mariana Ferrer Law, which punishes public agents who violate the dignity of victims or witnesses of sexual violence in court.
“We call on Brazil’s justice system to remedy this blatant injustice against journalist Schirlei Alves, whose reporting on the humiliation of a young woman in the witness box led to legal reform to protect rape victims,” said Cristina Zahar, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, said on Wednesday. “Rather than treating a journalist like a criminal for fulfilling her duty to inform the public, Brazil should follow the standards of the regional Inter-American Human Rights System, which provides for cases of insult, slander and defamation to be dealt with in civil courts.”
The journalist’s attorney Rafael Fagundes told CPJ that the ruling was “arbitrary and illegal.”
“This ruling can be a threat to those who dare to denounce any abuses committed by the judiciary,” he said, adding that he had appealed the decision.
Judge Andrea Cristina Rodrigues Studer, head of the 5th Criminal Court of Florianópolis, who issued the November 15 sentence, told CPJ that judges did not comment on their decisions.