A law proposed by a Brazilian senator to increase by one third prison sentences for press offenses (defamation, insults and denigration) committed on the Internet has been condemned as dangerous by the France-based press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.
The bill, submitted in December 2007 by Senator Expedito Júnior, is currently being debated by the relevant committee of the upper chamber and is expected to be put to a vote in February.
"How can you explain the submission of a draft law toughening legal sanctions against press offenses in the Senate when another before the Chamber of Deputies provides on the contrary for the abolition of prison sentences for the same offenses?" asked the worldwide press freedom organization.
"This proposal is dangerous and completely ill-timed. How can the Congress vote for something and its opposite?"
The criminal law reform introduced by the senator increases by one third prison sentences currently in effect for the offense of "denigration" (including those, under the new law, of six months to two years in prison, as well as a fine) of "defamation" (between three months and one year) and "insult" (between one year and six months), when committed online.
The current law provides for a longer sentence when the victim is elderly or handicapped, is a member of a national or foreign government or holds a public position. Senator Expedito Júnior's law would allow police access to confidential information on a website without legal authority.
In the eyes of the senator, "Anyone who makes accusations without identifying themselves deserves greater punishment." He said it would tackle the proliferation of websites created by "pseudo-journalists" with the sole aim of "causing offense and destroying reputations."
The criminal law reform has to be approved by the Senate committee on science, technology, innovation, communications and computerization, by which it is now being examined. It would then be submitted for Senate approval in full session. The debate and the vote should be held during February. It would only become law with the assent of the president's Constitution and Justice Committee.
At the same time as Expedito Júnior presented his draft law to the Senate, in December 2007, deputy Miro Teixeira submitted his to the Lower Chamber. No timetable has yet been agreed to for this bill, which would put an end to the application of the press law of 9 February 1967 – inherited from the military dictatorship – by abolishing prison sentences for these very same kinds of "damage to reputation" and widening the definition of a journalist to anyone doing the job of informing the public, including online.