BRAZIL – A federal judge has sentenced Danilo Gentili, a politically conservative comedian, to seven months in prison for a video he posted on social media three years ago.

Danilo Gentili is a well-known comedian in Brazil. Gentili earned notoriety for conservative views and involvement in politics. His latest sentence is another evidence of a worrying tendency observable in many South American countries, according to Human Rights Watch.

There is no denying that the actions of the comedian could be seen as inappropriate. However, these actions were committed publicly and clearly as a joke.

Gentili posted a video in which he received a letter that asked him to delete some of his tweets that have allegedly offensive content in regards to Mario Do Rosario who represents the Workers’ Party in Congress.

Instead of complying with the text of the letter, Gentili tore apart the piece of paper, stuffed them in his underwear and sent them back. This clearly political joke was not taken lightly.

The court inspected the video and found its content extremely offensive as well as intended to offend Do Rosario. After a short hearing, Gentili was sentenced to almost seven months in prison.

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What is really worrying in this debacle is that he received punishment by breaking a criminal code while the situation appears to be a matter of civil law. Criminal defamation, as demonstrated by this precedent, may easily go against freedom of expression which is a constitutional civil right recognized internationally.

Making a joke is now a crime according to the Brazil justice system. Individuals now can engage in a dangerous game where they accuse of crime comedians and people who merely expressed their political views in a questionable manner.

Defamation is considered a matter of civil law as recommended by the United Nations. The position of the international community is quite clear and states that public figures should be able to endure and tolerate harsher criticism than private individuals.

Whether Gentili will appeal to courts of higher instances is unknown.

However, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made their statement in 2000 saying that the civil, not criminal, code should protect the reputation of politicians and government officials. This case certainly demonstrates that they have all means to shut up critics and the opposition by using the justice system inappropriately and unconstitutionally.