Brazilian writer convicted for fictional story
José Cristian Góes says case brought against him is a "direct attack on free speech. Rafael Spuldar reports
11 Jul 13

brazil-flagJournalist José Cristian Góes says case brought against him is a “direct attack on free speech. Rafael Spuldar reports

A Brazilian journalist was convicted for slander after publishing a fictional article was deemed too offensive by a judge.

Journalist José Cristian Góes from Sergipe — Brazil’s smallest state, and one of the poorest — wrote a piece called Eu, o coronel em mim (“The colonel in me”), in reference to the historical figure of “coronel”, powerful landowners from the region’s countryside, who hold political and economic power and often use violence to enforce their will.

The article is written as the confession of a fictional coronel from the slavery period in Brazil, who is surprised by the upcoming democracy and is forced to behave as a democrat.

In his article, Góes used the expression jagunço das leis, which could be translated as “thug of the law” (jagunço being a kind of thug that works for a coronel). Góes’s piece was published on May 2012 by website Infonet, where he works as a regular columnist.

Judge Edson Ulisses from Sergipe’s State Court of Justice felt attacked by the “thug of the law” quote and charged the journalist with slander and defamation last December.

Góes was convicted of slander, and on 4 July he was sentenced to 7 months and 16 days in prison. The sentence has been commuted to community service.

Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers (Associação Nacional de Jornais, ANJ) and Reporters Without Borders denounced the court’s ruling.

Góes says he will appeal. He claims the article makes no reference to any specific place or date, neither cites names or clear characteristic of real people.

The journalist says the prosecution is “an attempt to make a direct attack” against free speech.

“A large part of the local press is extremely dependent of [the public] power and is captive to this logic which is perverse for democracy”, he told website Portal Imprensa last December, when he was charged. “Freedom of speech and freedom of the press here are presents from Santa Claus.”

By Rafael Spuldar

Rafael Spuldar is a freelance writer based in Brazil.