In Brazil, journalist and author JP Cuenca became the defendant in more than 140 lawsuits. These suits were filed all over the country by pastors from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of Christ, a multinational organisation with branches operating in more than a hundred countries.
Mr Cuenca, at the time employed by Deutsche Welle Brasil, tweeted that “Brazilians will only be free when the last Bolsonaro is hanged in the guts of the last pastor of the Universal Church”. Almost no one understood that Mr Cuenca was paraphrasing 18th Century French author, Jean Meslier. Meslier wrote at the time “the man will only be free when the last king is hanged in the guts of the last priest”. Mr Cuenca was swiftly attacked online. He then deleted the tweet and went on to clarify that his post was not aimed at inciting hatred but was a tongue-in-cheek comment using Meslier’s famous phrase.
Deutsche Welle fired him for that tweet, saying it went against their values. Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s son and supporters picked up on the news and intensified their attacks on Mr Cuenca.
The response from the Universal Church
Starting in June 2020 individual pastors from the Universal Church began filing lawsuits against Mr Cuenca in almost every Brazilian state (there are 27), except in São Paulo where he lives. Most lawsuits are in the form of civil cases initiated before small claims courts alleging the pastors were offended and asking for compensation. In small claims courts the accused needs to appear him/herself before the court. In addition, six procedures are criminal in nature.
This obviously coordinated strategy by the President’s supporters aims to bankrupt Mr Cuenca. Despite the lawsuits lacking any merit, if even a small number result in a negative judgment, this will have a serious impact on Mr Cuenca. He would have to pay the compensation before appealing to a higher court.
Media Defence is supporting Mr Cuenca’s legal defence.
As of April 2022, 91 out of 143 cases against Mr Cuenca had either been won or dismissed. Beyond Mr Cuenca’s defence, steps have also been taken by the Brazilian Press Association (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa, ABI). ABI filed a complaint about the judicial harassment against him to the Office of the Federal Public Prosecutor. The Federal Public Prosecutor opened an investigation and notified the Universal Church. Lawyers for the Church eventually testified and presented a written reply objecting to the investigation. They denyied any coordinating role in the lawsuits initiated by pastors against Mr Cuenca.
This investigation, which is civil in nature, is still ongoing. However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office petitioned the National Justice Council (Conselho Nacional de Justiça, CNJ) about this issue, requesting a Resolution or Order recommending how judges and prosecutors should treat lawsuits such as Cuenca’s.
The new Normative Act
On 8 February 2022, the CNJ held a session and decided to issue a norm. Recommendation 127 focuses on “predatory judicialization that can lead to the restriction of defence and the limitation of freedom of expression”.  This Normative Act classifies as predatory judicialization the mass filing of actions with a similar request and cause against a person or a specific group of people to inhibit their full freedom of expression. In the recommendation, the CNJ guides the courts to adopt measures aimed at speeding up the analysis of the occurrence of procedural prevention. It also highlights the need to group actions, as well as consider the bad faith of the plaintiffs, so that the defendant can effectively defend themselves in court.
The norm allows the CNJ, ex officio or upon request, to accompany the processing of cases of predatory judicialization. It also suggests concrete measures necessary to avoid the chilling effect resulting from predatory judicialization.
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