We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in Europe (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). Now Brazil is joining the anti-free speech movement with a ridiculous prosecution of a comedian named Danilo Gentili. Gentili is known for his caustic and sometimes offensive jokes. One joke about a congresswoman however proved too much for the government and he is now facing criminal charges for making a joke.
Gentili implied that the congresswomen was a prostitute in a series of tweets and was told by the government to take down the tweets. Gentili responded by tearing up the order and rubbing the pieces on his genitalia. Gentili’s gentilia was deemed a criminal response by the the Brazilian judiciary after a judge found that Gentili’s action was “intended to offend” and “never to be confused with a simple piece of spontaneous humor.” The court did not explain how it determined this joke to fall outside of “spontaneous humor.” It appears that the Brazilian courts are following the dubious lead of Potter Stewart who wrote one of the most careless lines in Supreme Court history in his concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964): “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
It appears that the Brazilian government is following the same ill-conceived approach on humor. It will let its citizens know when it sees humor or a felony in a joke.