Brazil | Writings

First They Came for the Comedians: Free Speech and the Right to Offend in Brazil

Danilo Gentili is a highly successful Brazilian comedian and talk-show host. He can be downright hilarious. He also takes special joy in skewering pompous (usually, but not always, leftist) politicians, in very irreverent ways. And that last one could land him in jail.

It all started when he posted some pretty disrespectful tweets about a leftist politician named Maria do Rosário (more about her later). Ms. Rosário took umbrage, and sent a cease-and-desist letter. Gentili promptly recorded a video in which he treats the letter in a – shall we say – obscene manner, and then sends it back to her.

This added umbrage upon umbrage. Ms. Rosário took her case to court, with the result that Danilo Gentili has been sentenced to almost seven months in jail.

First, a little background on Brazilian jurisprudence: though the Brazilian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, one of the limits put on that guarantee is the called injuria – that is, it is illegal to say or publish anything that gives “moral offense” to another. And the alert reader is already seeing huge potential problems with that caveat.

Second, there is a context to the Gentili case that takes it to a whole other level of absurd. Maria do Rosário is well known here for being an advocate of releasing dangerous criminals – victims of society that they are – from jail. So well-known, in fact, that when she tried to attend the funeral of a doctor who was killed in a robbery gone bad (as opposed to all those good robberies), family and friends reacted so violently that she was forced to leave.

(Note, the account that hosted the video showing this event has been terminated, and it would appear that all other videos of it – there were a lot – have been scrubbed. Hmmmm…)

So, to put the pieces together – the woman who advocates for returning violent criminals to the streets wants to put a comedian in jail.

This irony was not lost on many, including Gentili himself, who responded to one of Ms. Rosário’s self-congratulatory tweets:

Translation: If I rape and murder someone instead of making a joke about a politician, will you defend me when I’m in jail?

Self-awareness, however, is not Maria do Rosário’s strong suite. Her pronouncement on Twitter after the sentence was handed down was equal parts condescending and sinister.

For those who don’t speak Portuguese, at the beginning she states that the sentence “should be read as being educational (pedagógico) in character…”

In other words, Gentili (and by extension, everybody who dares insult her) needs to be taught a lesson. In a later interview, she had this to say:

“I fight for liberty of expression. What I can’t tolerate is liberty to attack, of aggression and the preaching of hate. This has to be fought in all places.”

So here’s the thing: when words like “preaching of hate” come out of the mouth of a leftist politician, it can be safely surmised that this category is not limited to comedians who make jokes in bad taste (and for the record, yes, I think everything Gentili did was in bad taste, and not even that funny). We know how they like to define the words “attack”, “aggression” and “hate”.

A friend here in Brazil recently left a comment on a post I wrote on Facebook about this incident, questioning my defense of Gentili. My response to her summarizes my perspective on the whole thing:

“The same people who want to send Danilo Gentili to prison want to do the same to your pastor who defends the biblical teaching about marriage, using the same justification. It’s already happening in the US…anything that offends a ‘protected class’ is labeled as ‘hate speech’. I’m not big on the style of ‘humor’ Danilo practiced, but I recognize that one day I am likely to be sharing a cell with him, condemned for the same ‘crime’.”

Hence my solidarity.

For his part, Gentili’s response has been of defiant scorn. This was his first tweet upon receiving the news:

Translation: Who is going to bring me cigarettes?

Followed immediately by this one:

Translation: Don’t bring me cigarettes, please. Bring me cigars.

Then this one, directed at his antagonist:

Translation: Hey Maria do Rosário, help me out here. Imprisoning me doesn’t serve any purpose. I’m just a victim of society.

He also got an outpouring of support. The hashtag #DaniloLivre (#FreeDanilo) was a top-trending tag. Tweets of support came in, including from one from a very auspicious source:

Translation: I am in solidarity with the comedian and host Danilo Gentili, as he exercises his right to free speech and his profession, of which, at times, I myself am a target. But I understand that they are jokes and are part of the game, something which, unfortunately is true for some but not for others.

Indeed, the overwhelming support I am seeing for Gentili (as well as his refusal to back down) is heartening to me. Ms. Rosário’s tweets are increasingly defensive in nature, and it is fun to watch her continually try to cast herself as a defender of human rights, and at the same time having to explain why she is putting a comedian in jail for exercising his…well…his human rights. Indeed, her task was made all the more difficult when Human Right’s Watch issued a scathing condemnation of her actions.

It will be very, very interesting to see how this plays out. Right now it seems that the left is ducking for cover on this issue, and more and more people are waking up to the necessity for a vigorous defense of free speech.

This can only be good news for those of us who preach a Gospel that has the potential to make people uncomfortable.


Did you enjoy this post? Consider making a donation to our ministry in Brazil.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This means that clicking on these Amazon links and making purchases is one way you can help our work.

And be sure to read the action-packed adventures of Missionary Max: Missionary Max and the Jungle Princess and Missionary Max and the Lost City.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.