Rio de Janeiro – The acerbic tweet came naturally to Brazilian novelist and journalist JP Quenca, who had been in a quarantine doom-scrolling routine of several months.
One June afternoon, he Read an article President Jair Bolsonaro’s government spent millions of dollars advertising on his evangelical Christian colleagues, especially radio and television stations Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, A Protestant sect that has helped vindicate Brazil’s political innings.
“Brazilians will be free only when the previous Bolsonaro is strangled with the entrance of the last clergyman from the Universal Church,” Min. Cuneca Wrote on twitter, Citing a sigh 18th century quotes About the fate that drove away kings and priests.
They put down their phones, make coffee and carry on with their day, oblivious to the fact that the missile will soon cost them their job with a German news outlet, prompting a spate of death threats and litigation. The clergy of at least 130 Universal Church have sued him in the remote courtyard of the vast country, claiming “moral injury”.
Mr Cuenca is one of the latest targets of a type of legal crusade, which clergy and politicians in Brazil are mounting against journalists and critics in an increasingly polarized nation. Defendants or their attorneys must show up individually for each suit, taking them across the country to a crazy crowd.
“Their strategy is to sue me in different parts of the country, so I have to defend myself as a nation the size of a continent, all these corners of Brazil,” he said. “They want to instill fear in the grim voices of the future and drive me to ruin or drive me mad. It is Kafka in the tropics. “
Advocates of freedom of the press say the number of lawsuits against Mr. Cuenca is unusual, but the type of campaign he faces is no longer there.
Leticia Klemm, a legal expert The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalists said, “We are seeing that the justice system has become a means to stop and disrupt the work of journalists.”
He said the number of lawsuits against journalists and news organizations seeking removal of material or damages for significant coverage has increased significantly during the presidency of Mr. Bolsonaro, who often humiliates and insults journalists.
“Blatant rhetoric has encouraged this practice,” she said. “Politicians portray journalists as enemies and supporters base acts in the same way.”
Mr. Cuenca said that he did not describe his tweet as particularly derogatory which reflected the state of political discourse in Brazil.
Ultimately, the country is ruled by a president. Who supports torture, Once a female MP was told Too ugly to rape, Said he would rather have his son die in an accident than be gay, and in 2018 he was charged with a crime Hate monger Against Black people, women and indigenous people.
Earlier this year, Mr. Bolsonaro singled out two reporters who asked about A. Corruption case against He has a son. He told one He had a “very gay face” and told the other that he wanted to break her face.
Mr. Kwenka saw his criticism as comparatively high-minded. He said he despises the Universal Church, which has developed into an international explosion since its inception in the 1970s, as he believes it fueled Mr. Bolsonaro for the presidency. , Enabled ecological destruction, careless handling of coronovirus epidemics and institutional chaos.
“I was completely bored, distracted, overburdened and angry with politics,” Mr. Cuenca said. “What I wrote was satire.”
The first sign of trouble was the wave of attacks that were posted on his social media accounts. He was followed by a one-line email from his editor at the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, where he wrote a regular column. “Cuenca, did you really tweet?” He asked.
He offered to write a column explaining the history of the citation – versions of which have been given to French priest Jean Messier and later to Drydot and Voltaire – and using variations on the line to comment on Brazilian problems Present examples of intellectuals of modern times. .
But the editor called the tweet “disgusting” and Mr. Told Cuenca that his column was being canceled. Deutsche Vale released a statement regarding its decision, stating that it “incites to any form of hate speech or violence.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal jurist and one of the president’s sons, celebrated the decision of Deutsche Valle In a message on twitter And said that he did Mr. Intends to sue Quenca.
In August, m. Quenca is shocked to learn that the tweet led to a referral to criminal prosecution. But Frederick de Carvalho Paiva, the prosecutor who handled the referral, refused to accuse Mr. Cuenca, writing in a ruling that the journalist had the constitutional right to criticize the president, even “rude and offensive.” in words.
“There is freedom of expression, which may be incapable of understanding the exaggeration by ignorant people,” the prosecution wrote.
Mr. Cucena searched his name in a database of legal cases and found the first of dozens of striking similar lawsuits made by clergy from the Universal Church, seeking monetary damages for the crisis, saying he had taunted him. They were filed under a legal mechanism requiring the defendant or legal representative to present the person for a defense.
Some clergy have found receptive judges, one of whom ordered that Mr. Cuenca delete your entire Twitter account as revaluation. But another judge found the action qualitative and called it “almost an abuse of legal process” in a ruling.
The Universal Church said in a statement that it had no role in the litigation edge. “The Brazilian constitution guarantees everyone – including evangelical clergy – the right to demand justice”, the church said. “Whoever feels that they have been offended or insulted may ask for reconsideration before the courts, who get to decide who is right.”
The statement said that the right to freedom of expression in Brazil is “not absolute” and that satire is not a defense to religious prejudice. “It should be recalled that the claim by author João Paulo Cuenca provoked counter-protest among many on social media.”
Tyas Gasparian, a lawyer in São Paulo who has defended many people who faced a spate of nearly identical, similar lawsuits, said that a plaintiff like the Universal Church abuses a legal system that allowed the justice system in the 1990s Was created to be accessible and affordable. ordinary people.
Mr. The type of action filed against Cuenca does not require that the plaintiff appoint a lawyer, but defendants who do not show up in person or do not send counsel often miss out. The clergy of the Universal Church launched a similar lawsuit against journalist Elvira Loboto after an article was published in December 2007 Church Linking Documents And companies located in tax havens.
Ms. Gasparian said the time and striking similarities in the lawsuits filed against Ms. Lobato and Mr. Cuenca make clear that they were copy-paste jobs.
“It’s very cruel,” he said. “This is a intimidating strategy in a country where traditional media is facing major challenges.”
Paulo Jose Avellino da Silva, one of the pastors prosecuting Mr. Cuenca, said he acted on his own initiative because the tweet angered him.
“As a Brazilian it makes me feel like I’m being excluded from my own country,” said Pastor, who lives in the beach town of Maragogi in the northeastern state of Alago. “If he retreats what I wrote, I don’t sue him.”
Mr Cuenca said that he hoped there would be changes in the justice system that circumvent similar legal sanctions. And perhaps the whole thing will become the subject of his next creative project.
“I’m thinking of making a film,” he said. He travels to distant cities to meet priests who prosecute him and see what happens if they just sit face to face and exchange ideas in good faith. “I want to talk to them and we can find what we want.”
Lis Morikoni contributed reporting.