XPA 2017 country profile: Brazil

Civic Space 11 min read
ARTICLE 19

Population:

208 million.

System of Government:

A republic since 1889, Brazil has seen disruptions to its democratic processes ever since. The last authoritarian regime began in 1964 – when a military coup took hold of the country and lasted until 1985 – when popular elections were re-established. In 1988 a new Constitution was approved and remains in force.

Legislature Structure:

Brazil is a federation composed of 27 states; the national Legislature is formed of 2 houses: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

Freedom of expression: key legislation and instruments

Freedom of expression and information is guaranteed under Article 5 of the 1988 Constitution, which sets forth fundamental rights and is a fix constitutional clause. Chapter V on Social Communications also bring a number of relevant provisions on press freedom and media pluralism and diversity (article 220 – 224).

Broadcasting and telecommunications are further regulated by the Brazilian Telecommunications Code (Law 4117/1962) and the Brazilian Telecommunications Law (Law 9472/1997). A specific law regulates (Law 9612/98) community radios.

Defamation (articles 138 – 140) and desacato (article 331) continue to be crimes in Brazil under the Brazilian Penal Code.

In late 2011 an Access to Public Information Law (Law 12527/2011) was approved and entered into effect in May 2012.

The Marco Civil da Internet (civil rights framework for the internet) (Law 12965/2014) was approved in 2014 and seeks to protect the rights of internet users, including privacy and freedom of expression.

Major political developments 2016 /17 

Having been elected in 2014 President Roussef was impeached in 2016 and removed from office due accused of irregularities in the annual budgeting process. The Vice President Michel Temer then assumed office. Presidential elections will take place again in late 2018.

President Temer has been involved in a series of corruption scandals and there are both impeachment requests and criminal procedures open against him. Congress has been shielding Temer from the accusations and resulting political compromises have enabled the development of a series of inadequate reforms and bills that have increased the fragility for human rights in the country.

In addition the run up to the 2018 elections and the pre electoral campaigns have also amplified intolerance and increased polarisation.

Key freedom of expression issues

Inequality and discrimination

Brazil is a rich country with the 9th GDP in the world (1,796,187 million USD), but staggering inequality rates. According to Oxfam, in Brazil, someone earning the minimum monthly wage would have to work 19 years to make the same money a Brazilian from the richest 0.1% of the population makes in one month. Between 2001 and 2015, the richest 10 percent accounted for 61 percent of economic growth.

Historical discrimination affecting people of African descent has been a constant factor not only of structural prejudice, but also violence. Indigenous peoples’ rights – especially concerning demarcation and protection of their lands and territories and the right to prior and informed consent, have been disregarded when not directly violated.

Impunity for violence against media workers

Activists and comunicadores[1] (media workers) who have been trying to raise awareness of human rights violations and corruption have themselves faced violence and intimidation. According to data from the Brazilian Human Rights Defenders’ Committee[2], 68 human rights defenders were killed in 2016 and there have been already 62 accounted deaths in 2017. Thirty grave violations have been reported against comunicadores so far in 2017, including 9 murders[3]. Between 2012 and 2016, 142 communicators have been killed in Brazil. Notably, 84% of communicators killed in 2016 had already been subjected to violations in previous years, which demonstrates the inability of the Brazilian State to guarantee their protection. In 39% of the cases of serious violations against comunicadores, there was no investigation opened by the police. Impunity, therefore, is a major problem.

The Government has failed to put in place effective preventive and protective measures to the protect activists and comunicadores. Serious structural and funding problems plague the government-led Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Program, which is also theoretically open to journalists and media workers.

Protests

Since 2013, major demonstrations have been taking hold of the streets of Brazil, involving a variety of groups. Most of the protests were met with violence by security forces, resulting in hundreds of injured demonstrators, arbitrary detentions and other instances of restrictive handling of crowds, such as the use of kettling techniques and abusive use of less than lethal weapons. According to ARTICLE 19’s monitoring, between August 2015 and December 2016, at least 1,244 demonstrators were detained. In the state of São Paulo alone, at least 69 protests were targets of stun grenades and tear gas canisters used by police. A number of protests were prohibited or had requirements imposed on them that could be considered in contravention to international standards. A number of journalists covering protests have also been victims of violence.

In addition to the crackdown on protest restrictive bills, such as the Anti Terrorism Law approved at the end of 2015, have provided the legal framework for a shrinking civic space in Brazil.

A number of controversial judicial decisions also confirm a criminalization of the right to protest.    Among the cases is Rafael Braga, who was imprisoned for more than two years after being detained carrying a bottle of disinfectant near a demonstration that took place in June 2013 in Rio de Janeiro. After the progression to the semi-open regime in December 2015, Rafael was again arrested and placed in solitary confinement for 10 days for appearing in a photo next to a protest message. Another case cited is that of photographer Sérgio Silva, who lost his left eye after being shot by a rubber bullet that hit him in the face while covering a demonstration in Sao Paulo in June 2013. Sérgio filed an action asking for compensation but saw his request denied by the Justice in August 2016 on the grounds that he himself was responsible for the injury, in a very illustrative example of the Brazilian courts’ position on legitimising violations in protests.

Access to information

Progress has been seen at the federal executive, but since it was adopted in 2012, the Right to Information Law has seen challenges in implementation at the local level, particularly in responding to information requests on sensitive topics such as environmental issues, and public security.

Brazil has continued to invest heavily in large-scale development projects, in urban and rural areas. These projects are typically approved without proper consultation with the affected communities, and it is common that affected communities are denied critical information on possible environmental degradation, and the possibility of displacement. Indigenous communities, who, under ILO Convention 169, are entitled to ‘free prior and informed consent’ in relation to all projects taking place on their territory are rarely consulted.

When called, hearings are held without sufficient prior notice, and information provided in inaccessible languages and formats. Community leaders who oppose projects are threatened for speaking out.

The production of public information remains a key issue. National data on violence against women, which is vital for putting together strong and effective public policies and strategies to combat this crime, remains absent.

Internet access and censorship

According to IBGE (Brazilian National Statistics Agency) the number of homes with connection to the internet in Brazil jumped from 13,6% in 2005 to 57,8% in 2015. Despite this significant improvement, access to the internet continues to be a major challenge in some regions of the country and in poor urban communities. In 2014 Brazil approved an important piece of legislation protecting rights on line (Marco Civil da Internet), but implementation continues to be challenged. Numerous bills that are before Congress aim to restrict these rights. Meanwhile judicial decisions tend to approve the removal of online content or allow measures that could amount to censorship.

Data protection

Brazil does not currently have a data protection bill on the statute book, which is a major cause of risk and legal uncertainty in the country, especially with the rapid expansion of Internet based services. A number of proposals are currently being discussed in Congress. Campaigners in ARTICLE 19 are urging that these proposals are drafted to ensure respect for international human rights standards and guarantees privacy and freedom of expression.

 

[1] Expression that refers not only to mainstream journalists, but more broadly, encompasses bloggers, mediactivists, community broadcasters, media workers, among others.

[2] ARTICLE 19 is a member of the Committee.

[3] ARTICLE 19 monitoring data.