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How the Effort of Brazil’s Senate Chief to Muzzle the Press Backfired

Vieira, Sarney and their wivesAlthough the Brazilian constitution defends freedom of speech and Brazil has proclaimed itself a democratic nation, news released last Friday, July 31st, left many Brazilians wondering if their Constitution is worth the paper it’s printed on.  The Supreme Court of Justice in the city of Brasília – Brazil’s capital – has decided to censor reputable daily O Estado de S. Paulo and forbid the newspaper to publish any article regarding the current federal investigation on Senator José Sarney, the president of the Brazilian senate.

Sarney – a former president of Brazil – has been accused of tax evasion, money misappropriation, nepotism, and illicit hiring of family members to high posts inside the government. His son, Fernando Sarney Filho, is also being accused in many scandals involving deals of his family business with state-run companies.

The allegations of corruption triggered an investigation led by the Federal Police and the effort was called Boi Barrica – a legendary creature of the folklore of Maranhão, home state of the Sarneys.

Chief judge Dácio Vieira, from the Federal District’s Supreme Court, was responsible for the ruling against O Estado. It’s been revealed, however, that Vieira used to be a juridical consultant for the Senate and still is a good friend of the Sarney family.

Pictures from June 10 show him at Sarney’s side during a party to celebrate the wedding of Mayanna Maia, the daughter of Agaciel Maia, a Sarney’s protégé who left the post of general director of the Senate in disgrace, charged with misappropriation.

Judge Vieira’s act stipulates that O Estado will have to pay US$ 75,000 for every article that goes against his judicial decision. Fernando Sarney Filho, the man behind the lawsuit, was pushing for penalties in the amount of US$ 150,000.

Brazilian Press Association’s president, Maurício Azevedo, condemned the Justice’s ruling.  “The decision made by the Court of Justice is totally unconstitutional, according to the 2nd paragraph of article 220 of the Federal Constitution,” protested Azevedo.

“The constitutional precept does not leave any room for doubts and it is unacceptable in any instance of the legal system,” he added.

The president of the São Paulo branch of the Brazilian Bar Association, Luiz Flávio Borges D’Urso, has also heavily criticized the decision by the Supreme court: “Any restriction to the media’s work can make the idea of censorship grow stronger, this is unacceptable in a democratic state,” affirmed Luiz Flávio Borges in note to the press.

Many Brazilian congressmen believe that the decision taken by the Sarney family to try in court to muzzle O Estado is only harming the Senate chief’s cause.

Said Pedro Simon, a respected senator from the PMDB (Party of Brazilian Democratic Movement), a party allied with the government: “The man from the democratic transition is now committing an act of dictatorship. He lost his last argument. This is terrible. President Sarney has to resign.”

Even senator Eduardo Suplicy, from the ruling party PT (Workers’ Party) accused the court decision of violating constitutional rights: “The Constitution guarantees freedom of press,  moreover in cases of dialogs that were taped with judicial authorization. The population has the right to be informed about dialogs that violate the ethics code.”

The decision to censor newspapers is nothing new in Brazil. Censorship happened many times before in Brazil’s history, more recently during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), when government agents would work inside newspapers pre-screening any article before its publication.

Edison Bernardo DeSouza is a journalist, having graduated in Social Communication Studies at Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil . He lived in the US and Canada for close to 12 years and participated in volunteering activities in social works agencies. DeSouza currently lives in São Paulo where he teaches English as a Second Language for both private English Language Institute and Private High-School. He has already participated as an actor in three English plays in Brazil and is pursuing further advancements in his career. He is particularly interested in economics, history, politics and human rights articles.

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