11 cases against local news couple in Brazil

11 defamation cases against local news couple

Francisco da Silva Costa and Josineide Gonçalves da Silva run FALA RN, a news website based in São Gonçalo do Amarante in north-eastern Brazil.

Their outlet covered cases of embezzlement of local public funds, nepotism, and electoral fraud involving local politicians. As a result of their critical reporting, São Gonçalo do Amarante officials have filed 11 cases of criminal and civil defamation against the couple in an attempt to harass, intimidate and ultimately silence them.

One of the many cases is a criminal defamation case launched by the town Mayor in relation to a post on the journalist’s Facebook page. The post questioned the reasons why the city of São Gonçalo do Amarante had not improved any of its infrastructure despite receiving millions for improvements. The post also linked to a more detailed article on the FALA RN website. The Mayor, who felt personally insulted, filed a ‘request for explanation’ under Article 144 of the Penal Code. In cases where defamation is inferred from ambiguous statements, this allows the injured party to require the author to explain their publication in front of a judge.

The judge had the option to continue with a prosecution or rule that the publication was truthful and dismiss the case. If FALA RN were found guilty, they could face up to two years imprisonment.

Civil and criminal charges for journalism

As if the threat of criminal charges and imprisonment was not enough, the couple has also been facing a number of civil defamation claims by the same Mayor following a series of articles published by FALA RN which claimed that federal prosecutors were investigating whether the Mayor had received bribes in order to interfere with the allocation of public housing. The Mayor alleges that the publications were offensive and “insinuate situations distorted from the reality”. The couple could face damages and fines if found guilty of defamation.

This form of harassment and attempt to intimidate journalists is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. MLDI has been facilitating the legal defence of the couple in six of their cases, ensuring the financial burden of the numerous suits and charges against them does not prevent them from defending themselves in court or allow them to be silenced.

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