Based in Sobral, city in the northeastern state of Ceará, Wellington Macedo freelances for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, ISTOÉ magazine, Agência Estado and FuturaPress. The 59 suits were all filed by school principals in the Sobral area between 19 and 27 September 2018 in reaction to a series of reports entitled “Educação do Mal” that he had posted on his YouTube channel during the previous two months.
Macedo’s reports exposed fraudulent practices in the system used to evaluate Sobral’s public education, which is regarded as one of the best in the country and is often cited as a model by local politicians. Sobral’s schools have been ranked among the best in Brazil in recent years.
The concerted and coordinated nature of the lawsuits suggest that Macedo is the victim of retaliation by the local government. The one lawyer representing all of the plaintiffs is the Sobral education department’s legal adviser. Each plaintiff is seeking 38,160 reais in damages. The total amount of damages sought is therefore 2,251,440 reais (530,000 euros).
“We condemn the persecution of Wellington Macedo by the Sobral authorities,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The concerted nature of the lawsuits and the disproportionate amount of damages sought constitute an intimidation campaign designed to have a chilling effect and reduce this journalist to silence. This is a serious violation of the freedom to inform on a subject of the utmost public interest.”
Macedo’s “Educação do Mal” series of reports included interviews with Sobral school students and teachers who said they had participated in fraudulent tests in order to improve the overall score of the city’s schools in the national quality of education rankings.
Defamation suits are often used by Brazilian officials to intimidate journalists. In 2016, a total of 37 separate libel suits were brought against employees of the Gazeta do Povo newspaper by 35 judges and two prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná over reports claiming they were receiving illegally large salaries.
Website editors Francisco Costa and Josi Gonçalves were also the targets of abusive libel suits in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte in 2016 after publishing a series of stories about local corruption.
Brazil is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.