RIO DE JANEIRO — The acerbic tweet got here naturally to the Brazilian novelist and journalist J.P. Cuenca, who was a number of months right into a quarantine doom-scrolling routine.
One June afternoon, he learn an article concerning the hundreds of thousands of President Jair Bolsonaro’s authorities had spent promoting on radio and tv stations owned by its evangelical Christian allies, notably the Common Church of the Kingdom of God, a Protestant denomination that has helped propel Brazil’s political shift rightward.
“Brazilians will solely be free when the final Bolsonaro is strangled with the entrails of the final pastor from the Common Church,” Mr. Cuenca wrote on Twitter, riffing on an oft-cited 18th century quote concerning the fates that ought to befall kings and clergymen.
He put his telephone down, made espresso and carried on along with his day, oblivious that the missive would quickly price him his job with a German information outlet, immediate loss of life threats and spark a cascade of litigation. A minimum of 130 Common Church pastors, claiming “ethical harm,” have sued him in distant courthouses across the huge nation.
Mr. Cuenca is among the many newest targets of a kind of authorized campaign that pastors and politicians in Brazil are more and more waging towards journalists and critics in a bitterly polarized nation. Defendants or their legal professionals should then present up in individual for every swimsuit, main them in a mad rush across the nation.
“Their technique is to sue me in numerous components of the nation so I’ve to defend myself in all these corners of Brazil, a continent-size nation,” he mentioned. “They need to instill worry in future essential voices and to drive me to smash or insanity. It’s Kafka within the tropics.”
Press freedom advocates say the sheer variety of fits towards Mr. Cuenca is uncommon, however the kind of marketing campaign he faces now not is.
Leticia Kleim, a authorized professional on the Brazilian Affiliation of Investigative Journalists, mentioned, “We’re seeing the justice system change into a way to censure and impede the work of journalists.”
She mentioned the variety of lawsuits towards journalists and information organizations searching for the removing of content material or damages for essential protection has elevated notably in the course of the presidency of Mr. Bolsonaro, who usually berates and insults journalists.
“The stigmatizing rhetoric has incentivized this apply,” she mentioned. “Politicians painting journalists because the enemy and their base of supporters act the identical means.”
Mr. Cuenca mentioned he didn’t deem his tweet notably offensive given the state of political discourse in Brazil.
In any case, the nation is ruled by a president who helps torture, as soon as advised a feminine lawmaker she was too ugly to rape, mentioned he would somewhat his son die in an accident than be homosexual, and in 2018 was criminally charged with inciting hatred towards Black individuals, girls and Indigenous individuals.
Earlier this yr, Mr. Bolsonaro lashed out at two reporters who requested a few corruption case towards one in all his sons. He advised one he had a “terribly gay face” and mentioned to a different that he was tempted to smash his face in.
Mr. Cuenca noticed his criticism as comparatively high-minded. He mentioned he disdains the Common Church, which has grown right into a transnational behemoth since its founding within the 1970s, as a result of he believes it fueled Mr. Bolsonaro’s rise to the presidency, enabling ecological destruction, reckless dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic and institutional chaos.
“I used to be completely bored, distracted, procrastinating and indignant over politics,” Mr. Cuenca mentioned. “What I wrote was satire.”
The primary signal of bother was the wave of assaults that poured in on his social media accounts. Then got here a one-line e mail from his editor on the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the place he wrote an everyday column. “Cuenca, did you actually tweet that?” she requested.
He provided to write down a column explaining the historical past of the quote — variations of which have been attributed to the French priest Jean Meslier and later to Diderot and Voltaire — and providing examples of modern-day intellectuals utilizing variations on the road to touch upon Brazilian issues.
However the editor known as the tweet “abominable” and advised Mr. Cuenca his column was being canceled. Deutsche Welle issued a press release about its resolution, saying it repudiates “any kind of hate speech or incitement to violence.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker and one of many president’s sons, celebrated Deutsche Welle’s resolution in a message on Twitter and mentioned he meant to sue Mr. Cuenca.
In August, Mr. Cuenca was startled to be taught the tweet had led to a referral for legal prosecution. However Frederico de Carvalho Paiva, the prosecutor who dealt with the referral, declined to cost Mr. Cuenca, writing in a call that the journalist had a constitutional proper to criticize the president, even in “impolite and offensive” phrases.
“That’s freedom of expression, which might’t be throttled by ignorant people who find themselves unable to know hyperbole,” the prosecutor wrote.
Mr. Cuenca searched his title in a database of authorized instances and located the primary of dozens of strikingly related lawsuits by pastors from the Common Church, searching for financial damages for the misery they mentioned the tweet had brought on them. They have been filed underneath a authorized mechanism that requires the defendant or a authorized consultant to look in individual to mount a protection.
Some pastors have discovered receptive judges, together with one who ordered that Mr. Cuenca delete his complete Twitter account as a type of reparations. However one other choose discovered the motion meritless and known as it in a ruling “nearly an abuse of the authorized course of.”
In a press release, the Common Church mentioned it had performed no position within the torrent of litigation. “Brazil’s Structure ensures everybody — together with evangelical pastors — the appropriate to hunt justice,” the church mentioned. “Whoever feels they’ve been offended or disrespected can search reparations earlier than the courts, which get to determine who is true.”
The assertion mentioned that the appropriate to freedom of speech in Brazil is “not absolute,” and that satire shouldn’t be a protection for spiritual prejudice. “It should be remembered that the assertion by the author João Paulo Cuenca provoked repudiation amongst many Christians on social media.”
Taís Gasparian, a lawyer in São Paulo who has defended a number of individuals who confronted related bursts of almost-identical, simultaneous lawsuits, mentioned plaintiffs just like the Common Church abuse a authorized mechanism that was created within the 1990s to make the justice system accessible and reasonably priced to extraordinary individuals.
The kind of motion filed towards Mr. Cuenca doesn’t require plaintiff rent a lawyer, however defendants who don’t present up in individual or ship a lawyer usually lose by default. Common Church pastors started an identical wave of fits towards the journalist Elvira Lobato after she revealed an article in December 2007 documenting hyperlinks between the church and corporations based mostly in tax havens.
The timing and the putting similarities among the many lawsuits filed towards Ms. Lobato and Mr. Cuenca make it clear they have been copy-paste jobs, Ms. Gasparian mentioned.
“It’s enormously merciless,” she mentioned. “It’s an intimidation tactic in a rustic the place the standard media is dealing with massive challenges.”
Paulo José Avelino da Silva, one of many pastors who sued Mr. Cuenca, mentioned he took the motion on his personal initiative as a result of the tweet offended him.
“As a Brazilian it made me really feel like I used to be being excluded from my very own nation,” mentioned the pastor, who lives in Maragogi, a seashore city within the northeastern state of Alagoas. “If he had retracted what he wrote, I’d not have sued.”
Mr. Cuenca mentioned he hoped the ordeal would result in modifications within the justice system that stop related authorized barrages. And maybe the entire thing will change into the topic of his subsequent inventive mission.
“I’m pondering of creating a movie,” he mentioned. He envisions touring to distant cities to satisfy the pastors who sued him and see what occurs if they only sit nose to nose and trade views in good religion. “I’d like to speak to them and discover what we’ve in widespread.”
Lis Moriconi contributed reporting.