One of the reports, which have revived a debate about the ceilings on the salaries of state employees in Brazil, said that the average pay of Paraná’s judges and prosecutors was more than 20% over the legally stipulated ceiling in 2015.
Clearly irritated by the reports, 35 Paraná judges and two Paraná prosecutors filed a total of 37 separate libel suits against five of the newspaper’s employees – reporters Chico Marés, Euclides Lucas Garcia and Rogério Galindo, the website technician Evandro Balmant, and computer graphics designer Guilherme Storck.
The five journalists have so far had to travel a total of 6,000 km to attend hearings in 15 different municipalities in Paraná. The damages sought by all the plaintiffs total 1.4 million reais (more than 350,000 euros).
Everything indicates that the judges are coordinating their lawsuits. Gazeta do Povo editor Leonardo Mendes says the suits are all virtually identical. In an audio-file leaked shortly after the reports were published, the head of the Paraná Judges’ Association, Frederico Mendes, can be heard confirming that the association will provide the judges with a model for their complaints.
“We condemn this manoeuvre and these concerted reprisals by Paraná’s judges with the aim of intimidating the media,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The judicial procedure used by the judges who claim to have been libelled is tantamount to an instrument of persecution and censorship and constitutes a clear violation of freedom of information.”
The Gazeta do Povo insists on the accuracy of its reporting and says all of its information came from the websites of the courts of law and the department of prosecutions. In an editorial, the newspaper said it regretted the fact that “the data in question caused so much embarrassment” and offered the judges space in the newspaper to respond to the allegations.
The libel suits have nonetheless not been withdrawn. The newspaper has filed an appeal against the lawsuits with the Supreme Court, requesting that the libel suits should be heard outside Paraná. The request was denied.
Brazil is ranked 104th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.