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 the 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 ministers of the Supreme Court recognized the journalist's right to receive compensation of 100 minimum wages (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 appointed Silveira guilty of being injured, arguing that he put himself at risk by staying in the middle of the confrontation between police and teachers.
Alex da Silveira celebrated the victory. "The issue of playing the responsibility and blame for getting shot was crucial. Having lost my sight was something serious, it changed the course of my career. But, for sure, justice mistreated me much more." For Silveira the decision was a relief: "I have taken off a weight of 30 kilos on my back. I'm too happy. If someone else goes through this in the future, they won't need as much time to be compensated or 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 judgment of Extraordinary Appeal 1.209.429 has general repercussion recognized, that is, the decision 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 are protected by the liability of the State. "It is a decision that recognizes the essential role of the press in a democratic regime."
Despite the decision is fundamental to press freedom, the thesis suggested by minister Alexandre de Moraes and approved by the majority of his colleagues does not apply to all situations. The rule 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".