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Brazil4 March 2008

Senator Expedito Júnior to withdraw proposed law punishing “damage to reputation” online

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the decision by Senator Expedito Júnior to withdraw a law he put forward in December 2007, which would have increased prison sentences for press offences committed online.

The federal senator for Rondônia in western Brazil restated his commitment to press freedom in an open letter published today in the daily O Estado de Săo Paulo.

He said in the letter that the objective of his draft law had been to prevent a proliferation of blogs and websites solely intended to “damage someone’s reputation”, but the controversy stirred up by his proposal had persuaded him of the risks of “mistaken interpretations”.

“Good intentions don’t necessarily make good laws,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Senator Expédito Júnior was right to be angry about a warped use of the Internet by unscrupulous individuals to sully the reputation of other people, through racist hatred, homophobia or incitement to paedophilia.”

“We do not question the parliamentarian’s commitment to press freedom and his decision proves it. We are nevertheless convinced that this freedom would have been harmed if the draft law had been voted through. It also went against the trend of decriminalisation of press offences, which began with the partial suspension by the federal supreme court of the 1967 press law.”

“This legacy from the military dictatorship could soon be abolished with the adoption of a draft law put forward by the deputy, Miro Teixeira,” the organisation concluded.

The proposal made by Expedito Júnior would have increased by one third prison sentences against Internet-users found guilty of “damage to reputation” and would have made it easier for police to obtain evidence, by giving them the power to print out incriminating online articles to be produced in court as evidence. The controversy surrounding his bill led Expedito Júnior to call for public hearing before the Senate, a request which was refused by the Senator spearheading the law, Eduardo Azeredo.


01.02.08 - Senator responds to Reporters Without Borders about his proposed law against “damaging someone’s reputation” online

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed Brazilian federal Sen. Expedito Júnior’s “wish for dialogue” over his proposed law to increase punishment for online press offences and enable police to gather online evidence more easily.

The measure had been strongly criticised by the worldwide press freedom organisation, which said that in view of Júnior’s written response today to its remarks that it was ready to take part in a public consultation he had proposed about the bill, which is currently being discussed in the senate.

“We are still sceptical however of the principle and effectiveness of the measure,” it said. “The recent effort to shut down the website Orkut is disgraceful since racist or homophobic insults or incitement to paedophilia have nothing to do with news or just expressing an opinion. It is equally deplorable that an Internet user hides behinds a pseudonym to insult somebody. But apart from it being technically impossible to force a user to state his real name, it is morally and legally questionable to make rules that could be used to crack down on any undesirable opinion.

“We remind the senator that many preventive censorship measures have been taken against Brazilian publications and websites when a politician or official has claimed his “reputation has been damaged.” We prefer a fine to a prison sentence, which is out of proportion for a verbal attack and also a symbol of repressive regimes, such as the former military dictatorship. This is why we support the proposal by deputy Miro Teixeira to decriminalise press offences.”

Sen. Júnior said in his letter to Reporters Without Borders that his bill did not encroach on press freedom and was aimed at curbing “the proliferation of social networking sites, blogs and other websites set up solely to damage people’s reputations.” The present inability to identify those responsible for such attacks meant that the targets could not file complaints against them. He said he supported freedom of information, as guaranteed by the 198 national constitution and “without which democracy could not exist.”

Júnior, who is senator for the western state of Rondônia, said that “online insults and defamation” were “becoming much more serious” because the Internet was worldwide and it was almost impossible to obtain tangible proof of such offences. He said his proposal was a response to the Orkut case.

The senator said his second controversial proposal, to enable police to gather online evidence without a court order, would only involve police being able to use printed messages gathered in an investigation to be used as evidence in court.

Júnior said his proposals to stiffen penalties would discourage offenders by allowing printed evidence to be gathered at the time of the complaint and thus punish offenders. But he agreed that the row over his bill meant it should be publicly discussed further and said he would ask for a special senate hearing where everyone could say what they thought of it.


30.01.08 - Senate debates tougher penalties for online press offences as deputies seek decriminalisation

Reporters Without Borders today condemned as dangerous a law proposed by a senator to increase by one third prison sentences for press offences (defamation, insults and denigration) committed on the Internet.

The bill, submitted in December 2007 by Senator Expedito Júnior, is currently being debated by the relevant committee of the upper chamber and it is expected to be put to the vote during February.

“How can you explain the submission of a draft law toughening legal sanctions against press offences in the Senate when another before the Chamber of deputies (See release of 16 January 2008) provides on the contrary for the abolition of prison sentences for the same offences?” asked the worldwide press freedom organisation.

“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 offence 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 offence and destroying reputations”.

The criminal law reform has to be approved by the Senate committee on science, technology, innovation, communications and computerisation, 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, the deputy Miro Teixeira entered his with the lower chamber. No timetable has yet been agreed 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 some kinds of “damage to reputation” and widening the definition of a journalist to anyone doing the job of informing the public, including online.



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