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Article 19: politicians are suspected in 62% of cases of serious violations against communicators in Brazil in 2017

In Brazil in 2017 there were at least 27 serious violations against communicators, according to a report released on May 3 by the Brazilian branch of international organization Article 19, which is dedicated to the defense of freedom of expression. The information compiled by the NGO annually since 2012 highlights continuing trends in the country: politicians are the main suspects of ordering or carrying out violations; small cities, with up to 100,000 inhabitants, are the main sites of these violations; and radio broadcasters and bloggers are the main victims of the attacks.

Last year, the organization recorded 27 serious violations against journalists in Brazil: 21 death threats, four assassination attempts and two homicides. There was a slight decrease compared to 2016, when the organization recorded 31 violations. In the six years of monitoring, there were 177 violations, consisting of 115 death threats, 34 assassination attempts, 24 homicides and four kidnappings - this last type of violence was not registered in 2017.

Article 19 explains in the report that "it considers ‘communicators’ to be persons who exercise communication as a regular activity, even in an unformalized manner." The idea is to recognize the exercise of communication as "a human right that goes beyond the certification of professional categories."

The most affected “communicators” in 2017 were broadcasters (10 cases), bloggers (9) and journalists (8). Of all the cases, 73 percent had previously suffered some violation related to the exercise of communication, the report said.

The organization crossed the data on the violations with the survey carried out by Atlas da Notícia, a project that in 2017 mapped the local news media in Brazil and identified "news deserts," regions that do not have a print or online newspaper. Of the 19 cases of serious violations against broadcasters and bloggers, 10 occurred in cities located in "news desert" regions and two in cities that each had only one print outlet and no online media.

"In many cities where there are no newspapers, bloggers and radio broadcasters, they end up occupying this informative void," states Article 19. "The serious violations they face are therefore both threats to the freedom of expression and to the lives of these individuals, a possibility of complete silencing of local media. "

Just like in 2016, politicians are suspected of commissioning or carrying out attacks on communicators in most of the cases reported last year. Politicians are suspected in 17 cases - four assassination attempts and 13 death threats.

Public agents (three cases) and a businessman (one case) were also identified as suspects of serious violations to communicators in 2017, as was organized crime, which would be responsible for the two homicides recorded by Article 19. These are the deaths of bloggers Luís Gustavo da Silva and Francisco José Rodrigues (Franzé), both murdered in Ceará, the state with the highest number of violations (seven).

Both murders are related to denunciations made by the bloggers regarding criminal activities in their regions. The denunciation of irregularities in public administration is another of the main motivations of aggressors and is related to the four assassination attempts registered by Article 19 - two in Ceará, one in Goiás and one in São Paulo.

More than half of the violations registered by the NGO occurred in the Northeast of the country (56%), followed by the Southeast (22%), Central West (15%) and South (4%). Small towns with less than 100,000 inhabitants were the scene of 69 percent of violations; medium-sized cities, which have between 100 thousand and 500 thousand inhabitants, accounted for 23 percent. Eight percent of cases registered by the organization occurred in large cities, which have more than 500,000 inhabitants.

The report also identified a scenario of impunity: in 22 percent of cases, the investigation did not progress, and in 19 percent the victims did not even seek the authorities because they were not sure of the independence or the will of the police to investigate. One of the victims even appealed directly to the Public Prosecutor's Office due to not trusting the police.

"This demonstrates the need not only to confront the problems related to police investigation, but also to open other reliable channels that are prepared to receive these cases and to proceed in an independent and effective manner," Article 19 stated.

One of the main consequences of violence against journalists and the resulting impunity is self-censorship, the report said. Seven communicators who were victims of violations in 2017 told Article 19 that they began to self-censure. Two of them said they had completely left communications and three others said they changed the subject of their coverage, no longer reporting on political and sensitive issues they covered previously.

In a statement on its website, the organization criticized the Brazilian state, "which has not taken any action to tackle the problem, not even the most punctual, despite the various warnings and recommendations presented by civil society in recent years," according to Article 19.

The NGO pointed out that "the current concern is even greater because 2018 is an election year when, historically, the number of violations against communicators increases." In just the first four months of this year, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recorded 56 attacks on communicators in political, partisan and electoral contexts in the country.

Congress and Human Rights Council discuss violence against communicators

On May 7, the Social Communication Council (CCS, for its acronym in Portuguese) of the National Congress debated violence against communicators in the country. The public hearing, held in the Federal Senate in Brasília, was attended by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (Abert), the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) and the National Federation of Radio and Television Companies (Fenaert).

The hearing addressed the cases of violence against communicators in 2017 and also the recent cases of aggression and intimidation of journalists in the context of coverage of the arrest of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. At least 19 journalists were beaten by demonstrators between April 5 and 7 in several cities while covering protests against the former president's arrest.

"People without the ability to check the contrary opinion or accept the diversity of opinion have generated misunderstanding of the role of the media in society, which is to bring information with responsibility," said Paulo Tonet of Abert, according to Agência Brasil.

The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) also held a meeting on the subject in Brasilia. On May 8, the public audience "Strategies for coping with violence against communicators in Brazil" brought together representatives of civil society organizations and institutions such as the Ministry of Human Rights (MDH), the Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF), the National Council the Public Prosecutor (CNMP) and the Ministry of Justice (MJ). Also participating were representatives of the Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS and communicators who had already been victims of violence.

According to the CNDH, the purpose of the hearing was to strengthen the agenda of confronting violence against communicators and to think of joint actions to prevent and protect the work of these professionals.

According to a press release from the organization Reporters Without Borders, the topic was worked on by the Working Group “Human Rights of Communications Professionals in Brazil,” created in October 2012 by the Council for the Defense of Human Rights (CDDPH) and composed of representatives of various government agencies and civil society organizations. The work of the group resulted in a report with recommendations to authorities, but according to the commission, since 2014, when the document was published, few measures have been advanced, "which resulted in a scenario of little advancement in prevention measures and slowness in investigations of crimes against this group," RSF said.


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