Brazil: ARTICLE 19 urges all public authorities in Brazil to protect and defend freedom of expression and human rights

On 28 October, right-wing extremist presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was declared the winner of Brazil’s presidential elections. The country is facing a critical moment that demands rapid and effective action by its public institutions to end threats and violence, strengthen democratic principles and guarantee civil rights, including the right to information and freedom of expression.

As a divisive figure who has declared a pro-torture and pro-Brazilian military dictatorship stance as a member of Congress, Bolsonaro made a series of declarations that profoundly challenge democratic principles.  Throughout his career he has made discriminatory statements against women, LGBT people, and Afro-Brazilians. His campaign was marked by threats against political opponents, against media and journalists, and against NGO and human rights defenders.

ARTICLE 19 urges the judiciary system and all public institutions to defend and protect the liberties that are enshrined in the Brazilian constitution.  They must work together to ensure a safe environment for journalists and activists to exercise their professional undertakings, and emphasise their role in protecting  freedom of expression for society as a whole.

ARTICLE 19 also expresses deep concern about threats and physical attacks directed at people who share their political choices, journalists, communicators and activists. We also condemn the intensification of discriminatory violence against LGBT people, women, Afro-Brazilians, and those expressing different political views from their aggressors. We urge Bolsonaro and all Brazilian public authorities to condemn violence with vigour and defend the freedom of the press.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recorded 141 cases of threats and violence against reporters covering the elections. These included coordinated virtual attacks to death threats and even a request for protection by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. Several organisations documented hundreds of cases of threats and violence against reporters before and after the elections.

At least two journalists were physically assaulted when wearing identification badges of their news outlets. Being identified as a journalist in a public space presents  a clear risk and shows the urgent need to affirm and promote democratic principles in Brazil.

States are under an obligation to prevent, protect against and prosecute attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. It is essential that registered cases be duly processed, and that public authorities, including those elected on 28th October, take effective measures to guarantee fundamental rights and dialogue with society.  And it is essential that power-holders never incite violations of the right to free expression, promote discrimination or create environments conducive to violence.

The current situation in Brazil was aggravated by the widespread circulation of online fake news and disinformation, often designed and deployed to mislead citizens.  Such blatant disregard for the principles of democratic discourse, compromises truth, and ultimately interferes with the public’s right to know. The right of individuals to seek and receive, as well as to impart information and ideas of all kinds, is enshrined in the  Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda.  

ARTICLE 19, as part of Brazil’s vibrant and committed civil society, reaffirms its commitment to the defence and protection of human rights and stresses that it will continue to work to guarantee the freedom of expression of the Brazilian population as a whole.

At this difficult and challenging point in our history, it is vital to do all we can to strengthen freedom of expression and information. We must promote the circulation of information and ideas, exercise democratic principles and speak with each other across the political divide.