(April 2019) Supreme Court decision in Brazil violates freedom of the press and sets concerning precedent
Updated on 9 September 2021: Title has been amended to include the date of this press release following the spread of a manipulated screenshot on social media.
A decision by Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF) to demand the suppression of a media report concerning one of the court’s sitting judges violates the freedom of the press, warns Transparency International Brazil. The demand to remove the report from the internet is unacceptable, risks the international image of Brazil and goes against fundamental principles of the democratic rule of law.
Unless the decision is immediately reversed, the STF risks setting a precedent for a serious regression in the rule of law and defence of liberties in the country.
Last month the president of the court, Dias Toffoli, initiated a secretive investigation into ‘fake news’ and threats to the STF and its members. The investigation was widely criticised as an abuse of authority and unconstitutional, including by Transparency International Brazil. The court has used this investigation to justify the move to censor the article concerning the STF judge. Last month, Toffoli said, "I have always said that there is no democratic rule of law, no democracy, without an independent judiciary and a free press. This Federal Supreme Court has always acted in defence of freedoms and especially of freedom of the press and of a free press."
This week’s news contradicts this statement and confirms fears about the risks of arbitrariness in this secret investigation, as well as the merged roles of investigators, prosecutors and judges. The decision also sets a serious and dangerous precedent, threatening journalists who dare to publish reports involving members of the court with censorship and inquisitorial persecution – both of which have been abolished within the Brazilian legal system.
The systematic, organized, and intentional dissemination of fake news is one of the greatest threats to democracy today. However, it must be countered using regular judicial procedures. If the STF’s secretive ‘fake news’ investigation continues in its current form, it risks of threatening more freedoms than it curbs crimes.
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