VIiolation of Freedom of Expression

Brazil: WhatsApp services blocked nationwide in violation of freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19 condemns the blocking of access to WhatsApp in Brazil on Tuesday 19 July 2016, authorised by a court order issued by Judge Daniela Barbosa de Souza, from the 2nd Criminal Court of the District of Duque de Caxias. It is the fourth time in less than two years that a court order has demanded the interruption of WhatsApp services in Brazil.

The block on access to the service prevented millions of people living in Brazil from communicating through WhatsApp, which is now the world's most popular messaging app. The measure is a blatant violation of the principles of proportionality under international law.

It is also clear that there was a misinterpretation of the Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, as it gave a greater weight to the punitive aspects of the law rather than to safeguards for the rights of Internet users.

Moreover, it is not possible to have central access to end-to-end encrypted messages. The judge's request for this act is a worrying demonstration of the lack of technical understanding on the part of the Brazilian judiciary.

Brazil: Civil rights at risk

On 24 February, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved Bill 2016/2015 in the second round of voting, legislating the crime of "terrorism" for the first time. Originally introduced by the Federal Government, the bill was approved by the Chamber of Deputies last year, then was subsequently amended by the Senate. When it returned to the Chamber it was passed again, but as the original version drafted by the deputies. The Bill will now be submitted for presidential approval.

In at least two statements (available in Portuguese here and here), several social movements and organisations - including ARTICLE 19 - have expressed their opposition to the bill, due to the risks that it poses to civil rights, especially freedom of expression and assembly.

Under the proposed new law, the crime of terrorism would include "preparatory acts", "apologising for terrorism", "terrorism against property or services" and even the occupying of public buildings as part of a protest. These vague, broad concepts could allow for biased legal interpretations and could be used by the State to counter (or supress) social movements.

One of the main arguments against the enactment of the new law is that all of the offences it describes are already criminalised by existing legislation, which already punishes actions such as damage, arson, use of explosives, criminal association, bodily injury and murder.

Despite the fact that in the final version the term "political extremism" was removed from the list of activities that would constitute the crime of terrorism, and despite the inclusion of the caveat that social movements, trade unions, political demonstrations and other forms of assembly would not be subject to the terms of the law, the risk of those types of groups being classed as "terrorist organisations" remains.

This is because the judiciary has the power to classify a given organization according to its own criteria, leaving worrying scope for loose and erroneous interpretations. It should be emphasised that the Brazilian judiciary has always been a somewhat conservative institution, and has a well-established history of applying inappropriate provisions in order to criminalise social movements.

Brazil: Violations of freedom of expression in 2014

ARTICLE 19 South America launches a report on cases of violations of freedom of expression in 2014

On the 3rd of May, World Press Freedom Day, ARTICLE 19 South America will launch "Violations of Freedom of Expression - Annual Report 2014," the result of a process of monitoring and investigation of violations in Brazil against freedom of expression during the past year.

The report records and analyzes serious violations - murders, attempted murders, death threats and torture - that occurred against two specific groups of people: 1) communicators (journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, etc.) and 2) human rights defenders (rural leaders, trade unionists, association members, etc).

In all cases, people have been victims of violation as a result of activities related to freedom of expression - such as the publication of a story, the mobilization of a community or the organization of a demonstration.

In total, there were 55 cases of violations of freedom of expression in 2014, an increase of 15% compared to 2013, when 45 cases were recorded.

Of the 55 cases, 15 were homicides, 11 were attempted murders, 28 were death threats and one of them, torture.

The report found that more human rights defenders were victims of violations than communicators. Moreover, in many cases, state agents - like politicians and policemen - were behind the violations, especially violations against communicators.

The Southeast region (hosting big cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte) was where most of the violations occurred - 17 cases. 32 cases happened in small towns (with up to 100,000 inhabitants).

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