By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A decision by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes to order the removal of stories mentioning Brazil’s Chief Justice from two online news sites has received condemnation from both public officials and private entities.
“Sad times when those who have the constitutional responsibility to defend freedom of expression are charged with censuring and imprisoning it,” Senator Randolfe Rodriguez is quoted as saying by O Antagonista, one of the publications censored.
Justice Moraes is said to have disliked the article “O amigo do amigo de meu pai” (A friend of a friend of my father’s), in which construction mogul Marcelo Odebrecht linked then attorney general, now Chief Justice of the Brazilian Supreme Court Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli to his father, Emilio Odebrecht.
According to online news site Crusoé, which ran the original story, the elder Odebrecht was friends with ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who in turn was a friend of Dias Toffoli, whom he nominated as his attorney general.
Marcelo Odebrecht, jailed in the mega corruption scandal Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), agreed to talk to prosecutors in exchange for a reduction of his sentence.
Chief Justice Dias Toffoli discarded the story as “fake news” last week, stating that there was nothing in the documents that proved any illicit doings on his part.
Justice Alexandre de Moraes, however, went further and ordered the removal of the journalistic piece (and related posts) from the internet on Monday, under penalty of a daily fine of R$ 100.000 ($ 25,000 USD).
On Tuesday morning, the Justice authorized search and seizure warrants and determined the freeze of social media accounts of at least seven people involved.
“I also determine the blocking of accounts in social networks, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, of those investigated,” said the order issued by Moraes.
Crusoé claimed on Tuesday that even after removing the piece from their website, the news outlet was still fined R$100,000 by the STF.
The National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) and the National Association of Newspaper Editors (ANER), protested in a joint statement.
“The decision clearly constitutes censorship, prohibited by the Constitution, whose principles should be safeguarded exactly by the STF,” it said.
Both associations noted that Brazilian law provides for moral damage lawsuits and the right of response for those who consider themselves unjustly described or accused by the media.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) also condemned the decision, claiming it was an attack to freedom of the press.
Even Congressional representative Eduardo Bolsonaro agreed. “The best person to say what fake news is or isn’t is the consumer. This is freedom. The attitude of censoring Crusoé only contributes to reducing the already low index of credibility STF has with society. Those who walk the streets know,” Jair Bolsonaro’s son tweeted.
President Bolsonaro also took to social media and although he did not specifically mention the STF-Crusoé case, he reiterated his support for freedom of expression.
“I believe in Brazil and its institutions and respect for the autonomy of the powers, as written in our Constitution, which are indispensable principles for a democracy. That said, my position will always be favorable to freedom of expression, a legitimate and inviolable right,” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.