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The Brazilian Constitution protects freedom of expression and prohibits censorship.  The Penal Code criminalizes several types of conduct that constitute harassment, and the relevant provisions are applicable to online conduct.  In the absence of specific laws for the protection of journalists against online harassment, the provisions of the Penal Code can be used.  Cases of online aggression against journalists are abundant.  However, prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators is scarce.  Bills of law are pending in Congress that are designed to further protect journalists against violence in general and to enable the involvement of the Federal Police in investigations of crimes against journalists.

I. Constitutional Principles of the Freedom of Expression

Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law, with no distinction whatsoever, guaranteeing to Brazilians and foreigners residing in the country the inviolability of the rights to life, liberty, equality, security and property, on the following terms:

IV— manifestation of thought is free, but anonymity is forbidden;

V— the right of reply is assured, in proportion to the offense, as well as compensation for pecuniary or moral damages or damages to reputation;

IX— expression of intellectual, artistic, scientific, and communication activity is free, independent of any censorship or license;

X— personal intimacy, private life, honor and reputation are inviolable, guaranteeing the right to compensation for pecuniary or moral damages resulting from the violation thereof;

XIII— exercise of any job, trade or profession is free, observing the professional qualifications that the law establishes;

XIV— access to information is assured to everyone, protecting the confidentiality of sources when necessary for professional activity;

XLI— the law must punish any discrimination attacking fundamental rights and liberties[.][1]

Under the provisions of the Constitution, the expression of thoughts, creation, speech, and information, through whatever form, process, or vehicle, should not be subject to any restrictions.[2]  Subject to the provisions of article 5 of the Constitution set out above, no law should contain any provision that may constitute an impediment to full freedom of the press, in any medium of social communication.[3]  Any and all censorship of a political, ideological, or artistic nature is forbidden.[4]

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II. Criminal Activities and Sanctions

A. Penal Code

Several provisions of the Brazilian Penal Code are applicable to harassment in general, including on the internet.  Slandering (caluniar) someone, “falsely attributing to him or her a fact defined as a crime,” is punished with imprisonment from six months to two years and a fine.[5]  The same punishment applies to those who, knowing the attribution is false, propagate or disclose it.[6]

Defaming (difamar) someone by attributing to him or her “a fact offensive to his or her reputation” is punished with imprisonment from three months to one year and a fine.[7]  Injuring (injuriar) someone, “offending his or her dignity or decorum,” is punished with imprisonment from one to six months or a fine.[8]

Forcing (constrangimento ilegal) someone, “through violence or grave threat, or after having reduced by any other means his or her ability to resist, not to do what the law permits, or to do what the law does not command,” is punished with imprisonment from three months to one year or a fine.[9]  Threatening (ameaçar) someone “by word, writing or gesture, or any other symbolic means, to cause them unjust and grave harm” is punished with imprisonment from one to six months or a fine.[10]

Assigning or attributing to a third party “a false identity to gain advantage, for one’s own or another’s benefit,” or causing harm to another, is punished with imprisonment from three months to one year, or with a fine if the act does not constitute an element of a more serious crime.[11]

B. Decree-Law No. 3,688 of October 3, 1941

Decree-Law No. 3,688 of October 3, 1941, which defines misdemeanors (contravenções penais), punishes with imprisonment from fifteen days to three months, or a fine, whomever disturbs someone else’s work or rest.[12]  Harassing someone or disturbing his or her tranquility, on purpose or for an objectionable reason, is punished with imprisonment from fifteen days to two months or a fine.[13]

C. Law No. 12,735 of November 30, 2012

Law No. 12,735, enacted on November 30, 2012, established specialized police stations (delegacias especializadas) to fight digital crimes.[14]

D. Law No. 12,737 of November 30, 2012

Law No. 12,737 of November 30, 2012, amended the Penal Code to include, as criminal offenses, certain activities involving the use of a computer.  It added article 154-A to the Penal Code, which states that hacking into someone else’s computer device, whether or not connected to a computer network, through an “improper breach of security mechanisms and for the purpose of obtaining, tampering with or destroying data or information without the express or tacit authorization of the device holder,” or “installing vulnerabilities to gain unlawful advantage,” is punished with imprisonment from three months to one year and a fine.[15]

The punishment is increased from one sixth to one third if the invasion results in economic loss.[16] If the invasion results in the obtaining of private electronic communications content, trade or industrial secrets, confidential information as defined by law, or unauthorized remote control of the invaded device, the offender is punished with imprisonment from six months to two years, and with a fine if the conduct is not a more serious crime.[17]  The punishment is increased from one to two thirds if there is disclosure, commercialization, or transmission to third parties, in any capacity, of the data or information obtained.[18]

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III. Internet Rules

On April 24, 2014, Brazil published Law No. 12,965, which establishes principles, guarantees, rights, and duties for the use of the internet in Brazil and determines the guidelines for the action of the Union, the states, the Federal District and the municipalities in relation to this matter.[19]

The regulation of the use of the internet in Brazil is based, inter alia, on respect for freedom of expression, human rights, personality development, and the exercise of citizenship in digital media; plurality and diversity; openness and collaboration; free enterprise, free competition, and consumer protection; and the social purpose of the internet.[20]

According to Law No. 12,965, internet access is essential to the exercise of citizenship.  For this purpose, the Law lists the rights of and guarantees of internet users, which include, but are not limited to, the inviolability of intimacy and privacy; protection and compensation for property or moral damages resulting from such violation; inviolability and secrecy of the flow of a person’s communications through the internet, except by court order, as provided by law; and inviolability and secrecy of a person’s private communications that have been stored, except by court order.[21]

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IV. Protection of Journalists

It does not appear that there are specific protections for journalists against online harassment.  However, all the provisions discussed above would be applicable to their protection.

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V. Internet Harassment of Journalists

A. Prosecution

In 2016, Leonardo Sakamoto, a journalist who is also president of the nongovernmental organization Repórter Brasil, filed a lawsuit in a civil court in the state of São Paulo requesting that Google release information about who ordered an advertisement that listed the journalist’s name and his blog and stated “Leonardo Sakamoto Lies.”[22]

Google cited the name, address, and phone number of a meat processing company called JBS in its response to the court order, as well as a number of IP addresses. However, it declined to state who paid for the advert, citing client confidentiality.[23]  A separate judicial request to supply the identity of the IP addresses revealed that the majority of them were linked to 4Buzz, a digital marketing agency, which was contracted in 2015 by JBS.[24]

A Google spokesperson said the company was “not responsible for, and cannot interfere with content published by advertisers on [Google’s advertising platform],” but added that violation of its policies could result in removal of an ad.[25]

Sakamoto’s work reportedly has resulted in defamation and death threats.  Earlier in 2016, a Brazilian newspaper published an entirely fabricated story along with a picture of Sakamoto’s face, claiming he had said “the retired are useless to society,” prompting a cascade of violent abuse.[26]

It was not reported, however, if any legal action was taken against the authors of the fabricated story or whether further legal action was taken against the authors of the mentioned advertisement.

B. Lack of Prosecution

On September 3, 2019, the Committee to Protect Journalists published an article arguing that Brazilian authorities should thoroughly investigate threats against journalist Adecio Piran, prosecute those responsible, and ensure his safety.[27]  Piran is the owner of a newspaper and website called Folha do Progresso in the municipality of Novo Progresso, located in the northern state of Pará.[28]

According to Amazônia Real, the threats to Piran were reprisals by local landowners and farmers after Folha do Progresso published that these groups were organizing a day of coordinated fires in the region.[29]  Fires occurred in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest for much of August, according to local and international reports.[30]  The article mentions that Piran had reported the threats to local police, who said they were investigating those responsible for the threats, and expected more information the following week.[31]

Several other situations involving online harassment of Brazilian journalists were located.[32]  However, it was not possible to determine whether situations where journalists were subjected to internet harassment and disinformation campaigns resulted in indictments against suspected perpetrators.

C. Development of Legislation to Protect Journalists

There are currently several bills of law pending analysis in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies proposing the amendment of different laws for the protection of journalists.  Bill of Law No. 1838/2019 proposes to add a new paragraph to article 1 of the Heinous Crimes Act, Law 8,072 of 25 July 1990, classifying as heinous crimes committed against the life, safety, and physical integrity of journalists and press professionals in the exercise of their activities.[33]  Bill of Law No. 3288/2019 would amend Law 10,446 of May 8, 2002, to provide for the participation of the Federal Police in the investigation of crimes against journalistic activity.[34]

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Eduardo Soares
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
September 2019


[1] Constituição Federal, art. 5, https://perma.cc/5WJR-TFN4.

[2] Id. art. 220.

[3] Id. art. 220(§ 1).

[4] Id. art. 220(§ 2).

[5] Código Penal, Decreto-Lei No. 2.848, de 7 de Dezembro de 1940, art. 138, https://perma.cc/3J8J-HHQS. All translations by author.

[6] Id. art. 138(§ 1).

[7] Id. art. 139.

[8] Id. art. 140.

[9] Id. art. 146.

[10] Id. art. 147.

[11] Id. art. 307.

[12] Decreto-Lei No. 3.688, de 3 de Outubro de 1941, art. 42, https://perma.cc/FCF8-2E72.

[13] Id. art. 65.

[14] Lei No. 12.735, de 30 de Novembro de 2012, art. 4, https://perma.cc/3HSF-NLN5.

[15] Lei No. 12.737, de 30 de Novembro de 2012, art. 2, https://perma.cc/JG3A-YSTT.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Lei No. 12.965, de 23 de Abril de 2014, art. 1, https://perma.cc/KG37-QMS4.

[20] Id. art. 2.

[21] Id. art. 7.

[22] Meat Company Denies Backing Advertisement against Brazilian Activist, The Guardian (Apr. 10, 2016), https://perma.cc/8Q6B-P99D.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Jornalista Brasileiro Adecio Piran Ameaçado Após Noticiar Incêndios na Amazônia, Committee to Protect Journalists (Sept. 3, 2019), https://perma.cc/AB9L-MFKT.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] See generally Nossas publicações, Reporteres Sem Fronteiras, https://perma.cc/3A7V-AWYK.

[33] Projeto de Lei 1838/2019, Câmara dos Deputados, https://perma.cc/CV83-B5RY.

[34] Projeto de Lei 3288/2019, Câmara dos Deputados, https://perma.cc/URP8-9KG8.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020