Brazil: Court of Justice rules journalist’s blindness from rubber bullet ‘own fault’

Brazil: Court of Justice rules journalist’s blindness from rubber bullet ‘own fault’ - Protection

ARTICLE 19 condemns the decision of the Court of Justice of the State of São Paulo to reverse the earlier decision to award compensation to Brazilian photographer Alexandro Wagner Oliveira da Silveira, known as Alex Silva. The compensation was awarded for medical bills and damages after the photographer lost the sight of his left eye due to being shot with a rubber bullet by troops from the  Military Police while covering a popular demonstration in the capital São Paulo in 2000.

The judge, Vicente de Abreu Amadei, who cancelled the compensation to the photographer, based his decision on the claim that the injury was not proved to be due to police action and that Silva should be responsible for any damage incurred, for taking the risk to remain in the demonstration during the police crackdown.

To justify the use of police force in the demonstration, which prevented the flow of vehicles on Avenida Paulista and ended with complete paralysis of the road, the judge argued that the decision “did not find that there has been abuse or excess in that conduct linked to such police shooting, and noted only the fact of improper blocking of public road traffic by protesters… ”

Demonstrations on public roads are common, and legal under international human rights law.  ARTICLE 19 believes that the Government should not suppress a demonstration or prohibit it when it is impeding the flow of vehicles, since a certain level of disruption to normal traffic flow is to be expected in a demonstration. Police should ensure demonstrations occur safely, and therefore the justification of preventing blocking traffic is not a legitimate reason to stop a protest.

In cases in which some intervention is necessary, ARTICLE 19 argues that the most appropriate initiative is that the police should negotiate with protesters to try to find a common ground. In the case of extreme necessity, any force used must be proportionate and in a timely manner in order to neutralise outbreaks of violence and preserve the individual rights and integrity of all present. The facts show that the police conduct at the time did not meet the requirements of necessity and proportionality, since the victim in question was acting in a professional work capacity, peacefully and legitimately.

To assign responsibility to Alex, who was working as a journalist, goes against both public interest and democracy itself, since the monitoring of protests carried out by the media is very important to inform society and also to protect demonstrators. ARTICLE 19 believes that the Court’s decision creates a precedent which threatens the freedom of the press, given that similar situations have occurred recently and that other journalists covering protests are often the victim of violent and unreasonable actions of police officers. Such decisions legitimise future violations, endangering the integrity of the professionals who play a vital role throughout society and for freedom of expression.