By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A wave of threats against journalists covering Brazil’s presidential elections has led a group of international human rights organizations to ask Brazilian authorities and the presidential candidates themselves to ‘vigorously denounce’ the intimidation.
According to them, scores of reporters have been harassed, threatened, and even physically attacked in the last few weeks while reporting on this year’s elections.
“One can disagree with a media report, and should have the right to say so publicly, but threatening the reporter and inciting others to do the same not only endangers journalists’ personal safety, but it undermines free speech and democracy,” read the statement issued by Human Rights Watch Brazil director, Maria Laura Canineu.
Canineu urged the candidates to speak against the current threats made by their supporters. “Presidential candidates should defend reporters’ right to inform the public and the public’s right to be informed.”
One of the most visible cases is that of daily Folha de S. Paulo reporter, Patricia Campos Mello, who last week wrote an article denouncing a scheme by supporters of right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro to purchase bulk messaging in the WhatsApp application in favor of the candidate.
The scheme is said to have cost executives from some of Brazil’s largest companies approximately R$12 million reais.
After the story ran, Campos Mello had her social media account hacked and received dozens of telephone threats from strangers.
“The threats are unacceptable; they must be investigated and those responsible be held accountable in order to protect responsible, investigative, and independent journalism,” said Juana Kweitel, executive director of Conectas Human Rights.
Another journalist who received the wrath of angry supporters was Ricardo Galhardo, from national daily O Estado de S. Paulo. Galhardo’s home telephone number was released to the public by businessman Luciano Hang, owner of one of the largest department store chains in Brazil, Havan.
The journalist called the executive to get a reaction on a story he was publishing on accusations that Hang was responsible for mass mailings on social media supporting one of the presidential candidates.
But threats against journalists, say NGOs have not been made only to reporters from large, nationwide newspapers. A small newspaper in Divinopolis, Minas Gerais published a statement on Tuesday (October 23rd) stating that it would no longer publish news reports on the presidential elections.
According to the news editor, the newspaper’s reporters as well as its major advertising clients were being harassed by supporters of a ‘certain candidate’.
“Faced with unpleasant and serious events that have been occurring, with attacks and threats against Divinews, we decided that from now on, in order to preserve integrity in general, we will not publish any kind of news that involves the second round of the 2018 elections and will also be removing all matters involving the name of a certain candidate” read the statement.
According to Divinews editor he has received calls from several advertisers asking to withdraw ads from the paper due to threats.
Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann said on Thursday he has ordered an investigation into the the threats suffered by Folha de S. Paulo journalists.