HAVANA TIMES – Brazilian officials and their representatives should refrain from harassing members of the press who cover them and Brazilian authorities should ensure reporters can do their work without reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 9, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s personal lawyer Frederick Wassef sent a lengthy threatening text message, which CPJ reviewed, to Juliana Dal Piva, a journalist with the national online outlet UOL.
In the message, Wassef asked if Dal Piva is a “communist” or a “soldier of the angry left,” and asked why she didn’t move to China, where “you would disappear and not even your body would be found.” Wassef also accused Dal Piva of “attacking and trying to destroy Brazil’s president, its family and its lawyer” and called her “an enemy of the homeland.”
Dal Piva interviewed Wassef via phone on July 2 for a series of reports on alleged corruption involving the president and his family members; portions of Wassef’s interview were also included in a July 9 episode of Dal Piva’s UOL podcast “The secret life of Jair,” the journalist told CPJ in a phone interview. Wassef’s text message to the journalist did not reference a specific piece of reporting.
“It is unacceptable for any public figure, much less the president’s lawyer, to send a message threatening a journalist for her work. This clear attempt to harass Juliana Dal Piva sends a chilling message to all journalists covering politics and corruption in Brazil,” said CPJ’s Central and South America program coordinator, Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Brazil is a democracy and its leaders should set a tone that encourages rather than impedes free reporting in the public interest.”
In a phone interview, Wassef told CPJ that he did not believe the message was threatening and said that he was simply “asking questions” and that his comments had been “taken out of context.”
“I didn’t attack the journalist Juliana Dal Piva; on the contrary, I was attacking communist dictatorships,” Wassef said. “When I say what ‘they’ will do to her, it’s not what I will do. I was not threatening her, I was warning her.”
Wassef told CPJ that his message was not in response to a specific report but that he became frustrated with what he views as a years-long effort by Dal Piva and other reporters to portray him in a negative light.
“This has nothing to do with her job or what she wrote about the president,” Wassef said.
Dal Piva told CPJ that she did not reply to Wassef’s text message, which UOL published along with a statement in support of Dal Piva reaffirming the outlet’s “commitment to independent, serious, non-partisan journalism focused on the public interest.”
“I am a proud Brazilian and I am not an enemy of my country for doing my job. Covering this story is talking about the president’s biography. Journalists have a fundamental role and they fulfill their professional responsibilities by closely covering the president. This is the responsibility of our time, to report on the Bolsonaro government,” Dal Piva told CPJ. CPJ emailed the press office of the Brazilian presidency but received no response.