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Watch your tongue: Prejudiced comments illegal in Brazil.

Brazilian lawmakers and law enforcement have drawn the line on free speech when it comes to racial, religious, or ethnic agitation – even though it is a constitutional right.

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‘Human dignity'

There are two types of offenses in Brazil when it comes to hate speech. Both are punishable by prison time under the 1990 law, which was passed after two decades of military dictatorship but is increasingly visible today. One has to do with insults directed at a specific person based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality. The second is the expression and encouragement of prejudice toward the same groups in general, as was the case of the Evangelicals.
 
Supporters say that violent hate crimes are a reality in Brazil and that human dignity is as important a principle as freedom of speech. There’s currently a push to include the protection of sexual orientation under the law as well. In April, a gay couple was found tortured and killed inside their home in the state of Alagoas, and 226 gays, lesbians, and transvestites were killed in 2011 alone.

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‘A pedagogical effect’ 

In Brazil, freedom of speech “doesn’t mean someone can use that right to impinge on someone else[‘s] rights, like the right to human dignity,” says Henrique Mariano, the president of the Brazilian Bar Association in the northeastern state of Pernambuco.
 
In 2010 the Pernambuco Bar Association sued law student Mayara Petruso in São Paulo for racist comments on Twitter. She was the first Brazilian to be found guilty of racism expressed over social media when convicted this May. After the election of President Dilma Rousseff in 2010, a wave of anti-northeastern comments struck social networks from opponents who accused the candidate of winning by giving handouts to the poor, especially in Brazil’s economically depressed northeast.

“Give the right to vote to northeasterners and you drown the country of those who worked to support the bums who have a kid so they can get a check,” Ms. Petruso tweeted, in addition to sending messages saying residents of the wealthy state of São Paulo should “drown” a northeasterner.

“I think this sentence has a pedagogical effect,” says Mr. Mariano, who says the case of Petruso – whose prison sentence was converted to community service because she was a first-time offender – was used as an example to emphasize that hate speech on social media can be prosecuted.
 
“When people see this punishment, this can restrain themselves or in the future prevent others from doing something similar.”

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