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Free Expression, Right to Information Focus of Blog Action Day Brazil

Though the Internet is flourishing in Brazil as a way for people to mobilize and voice their protest, recent events have shown that online censorship and police repression on the streets are problems yet to be overcome, Brazilian bloggers wrote on Blog Action Day 2013.

Bloggers discussed the state of freedom of expression in Brazil as part of Blog Action Day's human rights theme. A total of 70 blogs and sites from Brazil registered for the annual coordinated blogging campaign.

The well-known NGO Article 19 in an post titled “For the right to blog“, written by Helena Rocha, recalled how citizen media surpassed mainstream media on covering recent mass protests in Brazil and notorious cases of censorship against bloggers in recent years:

Several cases have had public repercussion over the years. For example, the case of the blog “Imprensa Marron”, which was taken down by a lawsuit because of a comment left on the blog. This was the first time that we know of in the history of Brazilian blogosphere, that someone was held responsible due to the activity of a third party.

Once the importance and the role conducted through blogs in promoting public debate was affirmed, the blogosphere became increasingly the target of intense censorship through litigation, especially by political powers. In 2006, candidate José Sarney tried to censor more than 100 blogs in the state of Amapá due to published materials that he was not pleased with and to third party comments posted on those blogs.

In the same manner, RioOnWatch, a site that gives a voice to residents of favelas, or slums, on the web, highlighted the crackdown on the teachers’ protest, a strike that has been ongoing since August 2013. On 15 October, 2013, which is Brazil's Teachers’ Day, a crowd of 20,000 people took the streets of Rio de Janeiro to demonstrate their support for the municipal teachers who demand [pt] changes in their salary pack – such as 20% pay rise and to be allocated to work in only one school. Victims of forced evictions joined the mass demonstration.

Photo by Rio on Watch licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

“Favela supports the teachers”. Photo shared on Rio on Watch website, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

In the post “Favela Residents Join Teachers Day Protest“, testimonies of Rio locals are highlighted, such as that of Regina Célia da Costa Coelho, a resident of the popular area named Horto:

We are from the Horto community, located in Jardim Botânico, a historic community threatened with removal because the authorities recently created a new demarcation map, which places 520 houses of former and current employees of Jardim Botânico within an area to be removed… In Horto we are facing the possibility that one of our schools (Manuel Bandeira) will be closed. Education is the most important thing in a country, it is the foundation of everything. We are here not only supporting the teachers’ movement, but also to unite all the demands, all those communities that are unsatisfied with this government. We are coming together in a unified struggle with a broader, all-encompassing vision.

Another Blog Action Day participant was citizen journalism project Amigos de Januária, a Rising Voices grantee. On their blog, they highlighted how public information goes hand-in-hand with freedom of expression in a post calling “For the right to information” [pt ]:

Chamaremos a atenção neste texto para o “Direito a Informação”, que mesmo não estando explicito entre os direitos da Declaração, pode ser lido entre suas entrelinhas e se caracteriza de grande importância por ser a chave para a garantia de vários outros direitos presentes nas mais diversas legislações.

Sem acesso a informações públicas fica impossível descobrir quais dos seus direitos estão sendo prejudicados. (…)
Se escolher seus representantes públicos é um direito universal, então obter informações sobre o governo que você ajudou a escolher também o é. Essas informações vão desde a verbas públicas recebidas, gastos efetuados, impostos recolhidos, direito a saúde e educação, entre outros.

(…) although not explicit in the rights of  [Universal] Declaration [of Human Rights], [the Right of information] can be read between its lines, and is characterized of great importance because it is the key to guarantee several other rights present in other laws

Without access to public information, it is impossible to find out what rights are being undermined. (…)

If choosing public officials is a universal right, then information about the government that helps you choose is too. This information, ranging from public funds received, expenditures made, taxes collected, the right to health and education, among others.

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