The Supreme Court examined the case of photographer Alex da Silveira, who lost sight in his left eye after being injured by a rubber bullet fired by the São Paulo Military Police during a protest in May 2000.
This statement was originally published on abraji.org.br on 11 June 2021.
By a large majority (10 to 1), the Federal Supreme Court decided that the Brazilian State should be held responsible if journalists are injured by security forces while covering demonstrations. The Supreme Court examined the case of photographer Alex da Silveira, who lost sight in his left eye after being injured by a rubber bullet fired by the São Paulo Military Police during a protest in May 2000. For Abraji, it was a victory for press freedom.
“The Supreme Court has corrected the injustice committed against Alex da Silveira by the São Paulo Court of Appeals and has fulfilled its constitutional duty to defend the freedom of the press. Abraji hopes this decision will serve as a warning to security forces and governors throughout Brazil to respect the work of journalists, photographers and other media professionals involved in covering protests and other events,” said Marcelo Träsel, Abraji’s president.
The judges of the Supreme Court recognized the journalist’s right to receive compensation of 100 minimum wage salaries (22,000 USD), as well as reimbursement for medical expenses and medication. The Supreme Court overturned a decision by the São Paulo Court of Appeals that had declared Silveira “guilty” [bearing responsibility] for having been injured, arguing that he had put himself at risk by remaining in the middle of the confrontation between police and teachers.
Alex da Silveira celebrated the victory. “The issue of being held responsible and blamed for getting shot was crucial. Having lost my sight was something serious, it changed the course of my career. But, without a doubt, the justice system mistreated me much more.” For Silveira the decision was a relief: “I have taken off a weight of 30 kilos that was on my back. I am excessively happy. If someone else goes through this in the future, they won’t need to wait as much time to be compensated or need to have their life put on hold for so long.”
Abraji and ARTICLE 19 were accepted by the Supreme Court as amicus curiae in the trial. The judgement of the Extraordinary Appeal 1.209.429 sets a recognised general precedent that should be followed in similar cases.
Monica Filgueiras da Silva Galvão, the lawyer who represented Abraji in the trial, said that the decision clearly establishes that journalists, when covering demonstrations, act in the public interest and the State is responsible for their protection. “It is a decision that recognizes the essential role of the press in a democratic regime.”
Even though the decision is fundamental to press freedom, the reasoning put forth by judge Alexandre de Moraes and approved by the majority of his colleagues does not apply to all situations. The ruling will not apply when “the press professional disregards clear and ostensible warnings regarding access to limited areas where there is a serious risk to his/her physical integrity”.