It was Patrícia Campos Mello who broke a story during the presidential election in October 2018 that implicated Jair Bolsonaro’s party in an illegal funding scandal that became known as #Caixa2doBolsonaro (Bolsonaro’s No. 2 account).
In a report published in the leading Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo ten days before the second round, she reported that businessmen had been illegally funding a WhatsApp disinformation campaign designed to get Brazilians to vote for Bolsonaro. His supporters responded by unleashing a ferocious social media campaign of threats and insults against her and the newspaper.
As part of an investigation into the supposedly fictious nature of her revelations, the “Fake News” Mixed Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry heard testimony yesterday from Hans Nascimento, the employee of one of the digital marketing companies alleged to have helped send millions of fake WhatsApp messages. Nascimento testified to the commission that Mello tried to extract information from him in exchange for sexual favours.
Although Mello and Folha de São Paulo immediately denied Nascimento’s claims, they were repeated by several deputies, including the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro. Speaking in the chamber of deputies, he said: “I do not doubt that Ms. Patrícia Campos Mello may have offered sexual favours, as Mr. Hans said, in exchange for information to try to harm President Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign.”
After being criticized for saying this, Bolsonaro said he had done no more than repeat public testimony, and went on to repeat the insinuations against Mello on his Twitter account, which has nearly 2 million followers. The insinuations were then widely relayed on social media, triggering a new wave of sexist and misogynous insults and threats against her.
“The inflammatory behaviour of Eduardo Bolsonaro, whose statements deliberately sparked a new campaign of harassment against Patrícia Campos Mello, are completely unacceptable and unworthy of a parliamentarian,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “We fully support this Folha de São Paulo journalist and we point out that, as in any country, elected politicians in Brazil have a duty to promote the importance press freedom.”
Brazil is ranked 105th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.