Reporters Without Borders today condemned the action of the federal police in tapping the phones at the Brasilia bureau of the A Folha de São Paulo daily newspaper in the course of an investigation into an alleged attempt by members of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s reelection campaign to buy a “dossier” of documents that supposedly incriminated his rival. The newspaper learned of the tapping on 8 November.
The authorities have flouted the constitutional right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources, Reporters Without Borders said, noting that it was the second time in 10 days that the so-called “dossier scandal” had cast a pall on the elections and led to press freedom violations.
“After the attempts to intimidate three journalists with the weekly Veja (see press release), the federal authorities are once again abusing their power to force journalists to reveal their sources of information in a scandal involving members of the president’s entourage,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Do they seriously think they are protecting the government by putting the press under surveillance,” Reporters Without Borders added. “The right of journalists to protect their sources is guaranteed by the federal constitution and the Chapultepec Declaration on freedom of expression and information, which President Lula signed on 3 May. We call on the judge who approved the tapping to rescind the order.”
A Folha de São Paulo discovered that two of the phone numbers - a fixed line and a mobile - of its bureau at the chamber of deputies press office in Brasilia were tapped between 1 August and 29 September. They were on a list of 168 lines which a judge said could be tapped as part of the investigation into the “dossier scandal.”
During the election campaign, members of President Lula’s Workers Party (PT) allegedly tried to buy a dossier of fabricated documents intended to compromise the rival Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and its unsuccessful presidential candidate, Geraldo Alckmin. A PT intermediary and member of Lula’s reelection campaign, Gedimar Passos, was arrested in a São Paulo hotel on 15 September in possession of 1.7 million reals (600,000 euros).
The police in charge of the investigation say they wanted to intercept all the calls made and received by Passos. Police inspector Diógenes Curado at first claimed he did not know the two lines belonged to the newspaper. He later said A Folha was the only news organisation to have contacted Passos.
In fact, according to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), Veja spoke to Passos two days before A Folha. On 31 October, the police tried to get three Veja journalists to name their sources in this case.
This tapping of national newspaper, which has been widely condemned by Brazilian journalists’ organisations, comes two years after the phones of the daily A Gazeta in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo were tapped during the investigation into a judge’s murder.