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Online Attacks Against Journalists:
Know Your Rights in Brazil

Contents

What type of harassment are you experiencing?

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THREATS

  • Criminal threats include death threats, rape threats, or threats of violence made online. These are a crime under Article 147 of the Penal Code, and you have the right to contact the police and request that they open an investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, will then need to file charges and begin prosecution proceedings. This must happen within six months of receiving a threat and you are encouraged to proactively follow up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure charges are filed within this timeframe. Please note that once reported to the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office may proceed to file charges whether or not you have requested it.

  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the harassment or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.

INTIMIDATION

  • Intimidation includes actions that threaten or frighten someone. This is treated as a threat under Article 147 of the Penal Code and you have the right to request that the police open an investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, will then need to file charges and begin prosecution proceedings. This must happen within six months of experiencing the intimidation and you are encouraged to proactively follow up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure charges are filed within this timeframe. Please note that once reported to the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office may proceed to file charges whether or not you have requested it.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the harassment or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.
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CYBER STALKING

  • Stalking – including cyberstalking – is a crime under Article 147-A of the Penal Code. You have the right to request the police to open an investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, will then need to file charges and begin prosecution proceedings. This must happen within six months of experiencing the stalking and you are encouraged to proactively follow up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure charges are filed within this timeframe. Please note that once reported to the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office may proceed to file charges whether or not you have requested it.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the harassment or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content. 
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DOXXING

  • Doxxing is an online attack that involves publishing personal information on the internet without consent. This is not a crime under Brazilian law, however acts of doxxing can be prosecuted if they expose information that is confidential, private documents and/or documents that are legally sealed (e.g. bank statements). You have the right to request that the police open an investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, will then need to file charges and begin prosecution proceedings. This must happen within six months of experiencing doxxing and you are encouraged to proactively follow up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure charges are filed within this timeframe. Please note that once reported to the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office may proceed to file charges whether or not you have requested it.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the harassment or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.
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ONLINE IMPERSONATION

  • Online impersonation is not specifically covered by Brazilian law, but can be captured under Article 307 of the Penal Code, which criminalises the use of a false identity. You have the right to request that the police open an investigation. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is obliged to prosecute false identity charges once reported to the police and there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, so you do not need to take any further action to ensure charges are filed.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the impersonation or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.
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TROLLING

  • Trolling includes making deliberately offensive or provocative online comments and is not a specific crime under Brazilian law. However, acts of trolling can be investigated and prosecuted if they include one or more of the following elements: calumny (false accusation of a crime), defamation (statements that offend or damage someone’s reputation), or insult (statements that offend someone’s dignity). If the trolling you are experiencing involves any of these elements, you have the right to request that the police open an investigation. Calumny, defamation, and insult require you (or your representative, such as legal counsel) to then file a criminal complaint within six months of experiencing trolling.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the trolling or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.
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BRIGADING

  • Brigading involves coordinated harassment by inundating an individual or community with a large number of inflammatory, offensive, and/or derailing comments and is itself not a crime under Brazilian law. However, acts of brigading can be investigated and prosecuted if they include one or more of the following elements: calumny (false accusation of a crime), defamation (statements that offend or damage someone’s reputation), or insult (statements that offend someone’s dignity). If the brigading you are experiencing involves any of these elements, you have the right to request that the police open an investigation. Calumny, defamation, and insult require you (or your representative, such as legal counsel) to then file a criminal complaint within six months of experiencing it.
 
  • You (or your legal representative) can also file a compensation claim against the perpetrator of such harassment in a civil court. In these lawsuits you may request payment to compensate you for the damage you experienced, such as material damages (loss of money) and moral damages (pain and/or suffering). This is set out in Article 5, V of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. You can also request a civil judicial order for the perpetrator to cease the brigading or request the right of reply (an opportunity to share your perspective) or rectification (correction or deletion of the information). The civil courts can also issue orders to determine that social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, X, Instagram) must remove the relevant content.

What do I do if the harassment is anonymous?

Anyone who accesses the internet in Brazil must be connected to an IP address under the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet. It is possible to determine the approximate location of the perpetrator(s) of an online crime through their IP address, even if they are using an account with false data to try to shield their identity. It is important to note that internet service providers are only required to maintain records of IP addresses for a period of one year. You should report harassment to the police as soon as possible in order to avoid such records being disposed of before the relevant authorities can obtain them.

How you, or the relevant authorities, obtain access to IP address records depends on whether the harassment you are experiencing is a civil or criminal offence.

If you are seeking compensation via civil courts, you can file an “affirmative covenant” “anticipated production of evidence lawsuit” against the online platform(s) the perpetrator(s) used to harass you. This will need to be filed by you, or your representative (such as a legal counsel). The courts may then grant an injunction to order the platform to disclose the personal data of the perpetrator. This personal data, including an IP address, can then be used to identify the perpetrator. 

If the harassment you are experiencing is subject to criminal prosecution, the police can launch an investigation to obtain the IP address of the perpetrator(s). You must request that your local police station open an investigation to start this process.

What do I do if race and/or gender is a factor in the harassment?

Presenters record a show at the main studio of Yemen FM, a private radio station in Sanaa April 22, 2014.
REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Article 140 of the Penal Code criminalizes the act of insulting a person based on race, colour, ethnicity, religion, origin, disability, or age. If this is relevant in the harassment you have experienced, you have the right to ask the police to open an investigation.

Online harassment in which race and/or gender is a factor may also entitle you to seek moral damages (payment to compensate you for e.g. pain or suffering) in a civil court. There are no specific regulations regarding harassment based on race or gender in terms of civil matters under Brazilian law, but such harassment generally implies a serious offence against the personality, honour, and image rights of the victim and against privacy and data protections. You therefore have the right to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator(s). The amount of compensation arising from moral damage varies from case to case.

What do I do if the harassment is committed by someone located in another country?

Under Brazilian criminal law, a crime is defined as having taken place in Brazil if the results of the crime occurred in Brazil, even if the perpetrator was located outside of the country when committing the act. As a result, Brazil has jurisdiction to prosecute online harassment crimes committed outside of its territory if the victim of that crime was located in Brazil at the time they experienced the harassment.

Even though Brazilian authorities have the authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by perpetrator(s) located outside of the country in these circumstances, actual enforcement of court rulings will depend on the country in which the perpetrator(s) are located cooperating with Brazilian authorities.

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REUTERS/ Brendan McDermid

What do I do as a media organisation, or an employee of a media organisation, experiencing online harassment?

As a media organisation, you can also be a victim of online harassment. Examples of online harassment that a media organisation can suffer include – but are not limited to – slander, defamation, threats, and intimidation. If you as an organisation are the victim of criminal online harassment, you have the right to ask that the police open an investigation and to request that the Public Prosecutor’s Office pursue charges against the perpetrator(s). You also have the right to file lawsuits in a civil court claiming compensation for the damages experienced and, if the harassment is anonymous, requesting the IP address(es) of the perpetrator(s), in order to identify them. 

If one of your employees is the victim of online harassment, your options to assist them in seeking legal recourse are unfortunately limited. Most online harassment, such as cyberstalking, threats and intimidation, require the victim (or their close relatives if they are no longer living) to file a police report or request that the Public Prosecutor’s Office pursue charges. This means that you cannot file a lawsuit on behalf of an employee experiencing online harassment – lawsuits can only be filed by the victim themself. Newsrooms are encouraged to make guidance available that informs employees of legal recourse options in the event that they experience such harassment, and to provide them with support to effectively gather evidence and, if they wish, initiate a complaint.

Where else can I find help?

Review your understanding

This short optional questionnaire can be used to assess your knowledge about online harassment laws in Brazil after reading this page. 

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Download the Know Your Rights Guide for Brazil

Some crimes can be prosecuted but require the victim (or a representative of the victim) to file a criminal complaint in order to begin prosecution proceedings against the perpetrator(s). If you are a victim of such a crime (or the representative of one) you have six months from the time the perpetrator(s) are identified to file a criminal complaint and request that they be prosecuted.

Some crimes require the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, to prosecute the alleged perpetrator(s) whether or not the victim presses charges. Crimes of this nature are subjected to what is called unconditional public prosecution. If you are a victim of a crime subjected to unconditional public prosecution and have reported the crime, no further immediate action is required on your part in order to ensure the perpetrator(s) are prosecuted.

Some crimes give both the government and the victim the option to press charges against the perpetrator(s). They do not, however, require the government to step in and prosecute as crimes subject to unconditional public prosecution do. If you are a victim of such a crime, you have six months from the date it is committed against you to request the state pursue charges against the perpetrator(s). The government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, also has six months to file charges against alleged perpetrator(s) whether or not the victim requests it. If you are a victim of a crime that is subject to conditioned public prosecution and wish to see the perpetrator(s) prosecuted, you will need to be proactive in requesting that charges be filed and/or following up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure they file charges and begin prosecution proceedings.

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