WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Andre Borges)

31 Mar 2020 | Joint Statement

To Ensure the Health and Safety of Brazilians, Bolsonaro Must Cease Deadly Misinformation and Inaction on COVID-19 and Protect the Right to Free Press

On Monday, March 30, Brazilian health officials reported that 159 people have died in the country as a result of COVID-19, while more than 4,579 have been infected. In Latin America, Brazil is currently the country with the most confirmed cases and deaths associated with the disease. Yet, in the midst of rising concern among Brazilians for their own health and safety, President Jair Bolsonaro has not only dismissed the pandemic as a “fantasy,” but has also taken advantage of the crisis to put in place concerning restrictions on journalists that violate the principles of a free press.

For weeks, Bolsonaro has risked the lives of his citizens by willfully spreading misinformation on the pandemic, refusing to take public health measures to mitigate the spread of the disease, and potentially blocking access to truthful and timely information that could be critical to health and well-being. Notably, Bolsonaro has dangerously accused the media of weaponizing the pandemic as a tool for bringing down his government. He used this as a pretext to justify a presidential Executive Order (Medida Provisória) that muzzled journalists by restricting their access to public records that are vital in the accurate reporting of the public health emergency. The Brazilian Supreme Court acted in a timely manner and annulled this new norm.

More than ever, the right of information is essential in saving lives and President Bolsonaro should respect, rather than throttle, the media sector’s independence.

Ensuring the delivery of truthful information and freedom of the press is critical, even more so in the middle of a public health emergency. Of immediate concern, it’s clear that Bolsonaro’s false rhetoric and misinformation is leading to inaction in combating the virus. He has accused governors of fomenting a “climate of terror” in implementing critical public health measures. He has urged businesses to remain open in a widely shared publicity campaign despite the best available public health recommendations. The Supreme Federal Court has since then ruled against the publicity campaign as it was not based on scientific evidence. He has willfully ignored isolation recommendations, often appearing in public and even shook hands with people despite reports of COVID-19 cases among his closest staff.

His refusal to act based on public health recommendations, coupled with misinformation, has facilitated the spread of a disease that could be contained with appropriate public health measures. As the virus continues to spread in the country, it will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations throughout Brazil—the poor living in favelas, rural areas, and indigenous and quilombola communities.

The international community, recognizing that access to accurate information is critical to the health of Brazilians, must urge President Bolsonaro to curb his rhetoric, false information, and actions aimed at closing democratic spaces in Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration should cease all attacks against the press and restrictions to information. More than ever, the right of information is essential in saving lives and President Bolsonaro should respect, rather than throttle, the media sector’s independence. Bolsonaro’s government must follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations in addressing this crisis, as well as implement an emergency water and basic sanitation plan in the favelas and special measures to prevent contagion in indigenous populations to prevent major outbreaks that could cost lives.


Signed by:

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil



Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

Inter-Ecclesial Commission on Justice and Peace (ICJP), Colombia

Crushing Colonialism

Chicago Latino America Solidarity Committee

Chicago Ayotzinapa Solidarity Committee

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

Black Communities Process (PCN), Colombia

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Alliance of Baptists

Association of Emcali Trade Unionists (ASOSIEMCALI), Colombia

Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), Colombia


Willie L. Baker Jr

Raimundo C. Barreto, Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary

Ofunshi Oba Koso, Yoruba Cuba Association, Babalawo/Shaman

María del Pilar Melgarejo

James Counts Early, Institute for Policy Studies Board Member

Eunice Mina Escobar

Elizabeth Leeds, Senior Fellow, WOLA

Darryl Chappell, WOLA Board

Ana Vicky Castillo, CEO, Afrolatinos Historical Society

Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University

Amilcar Priestley, Afrolatin@ Project