Defamation Laws In Brazil

Slander and Libel Laws in Brazil

As of May 2009, the Supreme Federal Tribunal of Brazil repealed the 1967 Press Law which imposes harsh penalties on journalists for criminal defamation, a great step towards eliminating criminal defamation in Latin America.

It is interesting to note to determine if Brazilian defamation laws can be enforced against non-Brazilian citizen. As of September 29, 2009, a US freelance journalist Joe Sarkey who covered a 2006 plane crash in Brazil in which he was a passenger, faces a civil defamation suit for comments in his blog. In a report published by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, the plaintiff is identified as a private citizen of Brazil, who claims that Sharkey offended Brazil’s honor in comments made on the journalist’s blog. The private citizen who is identified as Rosane Gutjhar, is claiming a total of $279,850 in damages. In his defense, Sarkey said that the comments can be traced from the “readers” comments published on the Brazilian news Website and should not be attributed to him.

In Brazil, defamation is a crime, which is prosecuted as “defamation” (three months to a year in prison, plus fine; Article 139 of the Penal Code), “slander” (six months to two years in prison, plus fine; Article 138 of the PC) and/or “injury offending the dignity of another person” (one to six months in prison, or fine; Article 140), with aggravating penalties when the crime is committed against the President, or against the head of a foreign government, against a public official in the performance of his official duties, or against a person who is disabled or over 60 years old (Article 141).

In a report by Orsi (2012), criminal and civil defamation lawsuits against the Brazilian media have numbered in the thousands over the last five (5) years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) website (see articles on this topic found in the “Committee to Protect Journalists”) .Orsi further comments that “CPJ asserts that businessmen, politicians, and public officials have filed multiple lawsuits against news outlets and journalists as a way to strain their financial resources and force them to halt criticism.” Further CPJ states:

“Plaintiffs seek disproportionately high amounts of money for ‘moral and material damages, a practice that has become so common its known as the ‘industry of compensation…. Lawsuits are filed in a politicized climate in which lower court judges routinely interpret Brazilian law in ways that restrict press freedom, and rights to freedom of speech and expression granted by the Constitution. (Committee to Protect Journalists, Brazilian journalist sentenced on defamation charges, [July 10, 2009]).”