Teacher in Brazil Charged for Defamation for Reporting on Jail Problems

Brazilian teacher Maria da Glória Costa Reis Brazilian Maria da Glória Costa Reis, a human rights activist and retired teacher in Brazil who coordinates the edition of a small newspaper written by detainees in the town of Leopoldina, in the Brazilian southeastern state of Minas Gerais, was sentenced to four months in prison.

Her crime: publishing an article criticizing the conditions of a jail and the negligence of judges and lawyers regarding the rights of detainees.

"Sentencing to imprisonment someone reporting on possible human rights violations is profoundly tragic. Prison conditions constitute clear public interest and public policy issues. They must be investigated, reported, debated and ultimately transformed and improved. They must not be silenced. The defamation suit against Maria da Glória Costa Reis and the sentencing are shameful," said Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19, a London-based human rights organization.

The article was published by "Recomeço", a newspaper with a circulation of 200 copies written by detainees in Leopoldina and circulated among them, as well as in churches, local courts and some public buildings in Leopoldina.

In August 2005, Reis published an editorial classifying as unacceptable "the connivance of judges (. . . ) and lawyers" with "such a barbarity", referring to the conditions of the detainees.

According to the editorial, the jail was not meeting the guarantees for humane conditions that the Brazilian Constitution grants to prisoners.

Although the article did not mention any names or specific posts, Reis had to respond to a criminal inquiry for allegedly offending judge José Alfredo Jünger de Souza Vieira, who was responsible for the Criminal Court in Leopoldina and in charge of overseeing the local prisons at the time when the article was published.

In a decision issued in January 2008, judge Tânia Maria Elias Chain, from Leopoldina, convicted Reis of criminal defamation against judge Vieira. The decision was based on the Brazilian Press Law (Law 5250/67). The four month prison sentence was converted to a fine.

Article 19 says that it urges the courts in Minas Gerais to abide by Brazil's international obligations in the area of freedom of expression and revise its decision.

"International best practices in the area of defamation," argues Article 19, "dictate that nobody can be convicted for defamation unless the accusing party proves, beyond a reasonable doubt that the statement in question was false; the person making the statement knew it was false or showed reckless disregard as to its truthfulness; and the statement was made with the intention of causing damage to the reputation of the person concerned.

"The editorial published by Reis made no personal reference to the judge and it is therefore difficult to see how it could have explicitly damaged his reputation, especially when considering the newspapers limited circulation. There has been no attempt to further investigate the allegations in the editorial or indeed to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they were false."

International bodies such as the UN or the OAS have recognized the threat posed by criminal defamation laws and have recommended that they be abolished.

For instance, the UN Human Rights Committee has repeatedly expressed concern about criminal defamation laws, and has called on States to ensure that defamation is no longer punishable by imprisonment.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also found a breach of the right to freedom of expression in two leading cases involving criminal defamation being applied to statements on matters of public interest, largely ruling it out in such cases.

"I believe the judge wanted to frighten me because of the newspaper," Maria da Glória Costa Reis told reporters. "We have reached a point in which the lawsuit was initiated by the Judiciary, which is exactly the institution that should make sure that justice is made," she said.

"The case against Maria da Glória Costa Reis demonstrates defamation's dangers to democracy. The overuse and abuse of defamation laws, and particularly the existence of criminal defamation discourage debate about official institutions, prohibit criticism and encourage self-censorship," said Callamard.

Article 19 reiterated that it strongly condemns judge Chain's decision and urges the Minas Gerais courts to reverse it. The organization also says that it considers as unacceptable the high number of criminal defamation lawsuits filled against human rights defenders and journalists in Brazil, as well as disproportionate sentences granted by some judges against them. Article 19 equally called on the Brazilian government to review its Press Law and decriminalize defamation.

Article 19 takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.


  • Show Comments (6)

  • forrest allen brown

    your Conselho Nacional de JustiÀƒ§a has hardley ever overturned
    a convicition about a fedral case en a proper or has it ever written
    a paper on or as to why the roamdeep was never returned to me
    nor did it ever give a responce on all the corupt politicans and military personal
    not to even go to the police ,judjes ,and members of the press
    writing to cover up one of there friends miss use of power

  • ch.c.

    “CNJ was created in 2004, during Lula’s term.”
    You are Sooooooooooo…… right !
    This explains why the corrupted to the roots senators involved in the vote buying scandal ….WERE PARDONED…BY THEIR OWN PEERS AS CORRUPTED AS THE ONES THEY PARDONED !

    You effectively have a strange defintion of Justice, innocence and guilt….in your constitution !
    But of course in Brazil your famous INjustice dept finds perfectcly appropriate to put a young mother, aged 19, because she has stolen a…TUBE OF BUTTER……TO 4 YEARS IN JAIL !!!!!!!

    Ohhh and also very appropriate to put a girl…..in a prison cell…with 20 males !!!!
    NO JAIL TERM for those medias journalists…who wrote about it ?????
    Should you…OR NOT ???????

  • ch.c.

    “Please, leave your partisan bigotry out of important matters like this one”
    Are you telling that those saying the truth in Brazil…deserve jail term…for defamation ????
    And those corrupted to the roots…deserve….IMPUNITY ????
    Hmmmm…you are real Brazilian.

    Have you a short memory….on purpose…. for the vote buying scandal ???
    Your filthy corrupted senators voted…..in secret vote of course….to pardon all the corrupted senators !

    And Palocci of course has not yet been tried and never will be….as you know.

    These are just 2 examples…within hundreds and hundreds..as YOU should know.

    Simple proof that in Brazil telling the truth is far more dangerous than hiding the KNOWN lies !!!!

    Prove me wrong…if you can !

  • GRR

    Stop the pointless smearing
    On the comment by ch.c:
    Please, leave your partisan bigotry out of important matters like this one. What the heck does “Lula and his 4000 thieves” have to do with any of the matters discussed?
    You don’t like Lula? Fine. But let’s use this space to talk about the actual subject of the report, ok?
    Back to the subject, some big circulation newspaper should publish her original article as soon as she gets cleared of the charges (which I’m sure she will be – local decisions by small-minded judges like this one don’t persist in the major instances).
    Thank gods for the Nacional Justice Council (Conselho Nacional de JustiÀƒ§a), which lets the population keep an eye on the Justice and allows us to complain against its misuse.
    And by the way, ch.c, CNJ was created in 2004, during Lula’s term.

  • forrest allen brown

    silence the truth makes it a lie ??????

    no just puts you inside so you can tell the real truth on how bad it is

    think if she goes and has been there done that
    any thing she writes will be the truth as not one judge or cop will be able to say no
    as they have never seen it from the other side of the bars

  • ch.c.

    In Brazil, writing the truth and you get…..jail time !
    In Brazil, writing lies and you get….elected !
    In Brazil, being elected and you get….Total Impunity for your crimes !

    Is this what Brazil wishes to…..EXPORT ?

    Viva Bin Lula and his 4000 thieves !

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