Global Freedom of Expression

Silveira v. São Paulo State Treasury Office

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers, Public Assembly
  • Date of Decision
    June 10, 2021
  • Outcome
    Motion Granted
  • Case Number
    RE 1.209.429 São Paulo
  • Region & Country
    Brazil, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
  • Tags
    Policing of Protests, Public Order, Freedom of press

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil held that the State is liable for injuries to journalists caused by police action when covering protests. A journalist was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet when covering a protest and lost 90% of his vision in that eye. He sought compensation from the State and was successful in the first instance court. When the second instance court overturned the decision, holding that the State was not liable, he appealed to the Supreme Federal Court. The Court examined the rights to freedom of the press and to work, and the UN guidelines on the use of less-lethal law enforcement mechanisms, and awarded the journalist compensation for medical expenses, loss of earnings and pain and suffering. 


In 2000, Brazilian photographer Alexandro Wagner Oliveira da Silveira was shot in his left eye while covering a demonstration in São Paulo. During the protest by civil servants on the road, Avenida Paulista, the Shock Troops of the São Paulo Military Police used tear gas bombs and fired rubber projectiles against the demonstrators and other people present at the protest,  Silveira was struck in the left eye by a rubber bullet. He lost 90% of the vision in his left eye and incurred significant medical expenses and his injury impacted on his work as a photographer. 

Siilveira sued the State of São Paulo. In his initial petition, he sought compensation for past and future medical expenses; a lifetime monthly pension in the amount of R$ 1,783.00 (amount based on the photographer’s monthly income); and compensation for pain and suffering of an amount equivalent to 2,000 minimum wages. He provided medical testimony on the nature of his injury. 

The first instance court awarded reimbursement of medical expenses and compensation for pain and suffering of the equivalent of 100 minimum wages (the salary in 2008 totaled R$ 415.00, approximately US$ 166.00 in 2008).

Both Silviera and the State of São Paulo appealed the decision to the Court of Justice of São Paulo (TJSP). Judge Vicente de Abreu Amadei delivered the TJSP’s judgment and held that Silviera had not proven police abuse of excess force. The Court considered the “position of the victim in the midst of the turmoil, between the demonstrators and the police, observing his stay in the conflict site, to take pictures, in a situation of risk or assumed danger, to exclude the responsibility of the public entity”. Accordingly, the TJSP overturned the court of first instance’s decision and held that the State of São Paulo had no obligation to compensate Silviera.

Silveira appealed the decision to the Supreme Federal Court (STF).

Decision Overview

Justice Alexandre de Moraes delivered the decision of the Supreme Federal Court. The central issue for the Court’s determination was whether art. 1st, 5th caput and items IX and XIV, 37, para. 6th, and 220, caput, and para. 2 of the Federal Constitution obliged the State to compensate a photojournalist injured by police during a protest.

The Court considered the freedom to work under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and by international treaties; and a UN manual entitled “Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement”.

The Court held that the State of São Paulo had the obligation to compensate the photographer. The Court established the position as: “The State’s civil liability is absolute in relation to a press professional injured by police agents during journalistic coverage, in demonstrations in which there is turmoil or conflicts between police and protesters. It is up to the exclusion of responsibility of the exclusive fault of the victim, in the hypotheses in which the press professional fails to comply with an ostensive and clear warning about access to delimited areas, in which there is a serious risk to his physical integrity” [p. 2-3].

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision gives effect to the rights in the Federal Constitution of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and freedom of the press. The TJSP’s decision was heavily criticized by the media, by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), and by Article 19, who considered it an attack on freedom of expression in the country for not holding the State liable for security in the performance of journalism. There was a similar case when, in 2013, photographer Sérgio Silva also had his left eye hit by a rubber bullet and claimed compensation from the State of São Paulo. In 2021 , Silva received R$ 1,209,429 in compensation.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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