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Brazil’s Symbol of Freedom and Truth

June 3, 2015
Natasha Schmidt
7 min read
Humberto Castelo Branco (right), the first military president of Brazil's dictatorship
Humberto Castelo Branco (right), the first military president of Brazil's dictatorship
Protest against the dictatorship
Protest against the dictatorship
Ivo Herzog
Ivo Herzog
Vladimir Herzog
Vladimir Herzog

The Iranian government harasses, imprisons and tortures journalists on a daily basis. Why? For exercising their fundamental right to freedom of information and expression.

Journalism is not a Crime was set up to support these jailed journalists. The site, which is officially launched on June 9, documents cases where journalists are unfairly arrested, and aids reporters and their loved ones by providing legal and psychological help to those affected.

As part of the launch of the campaign, IranWire spoke to journalist Ivo Herzog, whose father was murdered by the military dictatorship in Brazil in October 1975. Vladimir Herzog, editor-in-chief of Brazil’s TV Cultura, was tortured to death while in army custody. The military government cast the death as a suicide at the time. For many years, the government refused to carry out an investigation into his death, citing an amnesty law that stops the incrimination of state employees accused of human rights crimes during the dictatorship – until a judge in São Paulo ordered an investigation. In 2012, the International Federation of Journalists set up the Memory, Truth and Justice Commission to investigate the cases of killings, disappearances, tortures and censorship of journalists during the country’s dictatorship.

In the run up to World Press Day on Sunday, May 3, IranWire spoke to journalist Ivo Herzog, Vladimir Herzog’s son, about censorship under Brazil's military dictatorship, his father's murder, and the environment for journalists in the country today. To honor his father, Ivo Herzog and his family established an award to honor Brazilian journalists. Every year, journalists, students and researchers approached the family for access to photographs and documents related to his father. It was clear that the Brazilian people wanted to know about Vladimir Herzog and the time he lived through. So, in 2009, they established the Vladimir Herzog Institute

“Instead of focusing on the death of my father, we would celebrate his life,” says Ivo. “Our mission is to support the right to life and the right to justice,” he says. “We do that by recovering information about the recent history of Brazil.” The institute also supports budding journalists, awarding a bursary each year to journalism students. 

In the run up to World Press Day on Sunday, May 3, IranWire spoke to journalist Ivo Herzog about censorship under Brazil's military dictatorship, his father's murder, and the environment for journalists today. 


How did censorship work in Brazil under the military dictatorship? 

All newspapers and major TV networks had a censor working inside the newsroom. Everything they published or broadcast had to pass by them. Some newspapers, to show their position against this censorship, would publish blank pages; some would publish poetry instead of  censored articles. 

There was a very important underground movement. There were three kinds of press trying to work against the dictatorship: the “legal” press, which you’d buy from the newsstand – a lot of them used a lot of humor to speak out against the government. Sometimes their editors would get in trouble and go to jail. There were hundreds of different underground newspapers. If the police caught you with one of them you would go to jail. And there were the publications by people in exile – in Chile, Paris, London, Italy, different parts of the world. There was one newspaper called the Brazilian Front of Information.


Can you say a little about your father’s arrest? 

My father was never arrested, though in October 1975, many journalists were being arrested. Many of them were members of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of Brazil was 100 percent against violence. They wanted to use arguments and ideas to fight against the dictatorship. There were only two organized groups during that time that fought against dictatorship peacefully. One was the Catholic Church, and the other was the Communist Party. Because my father was a Jew, he joined the Communist Party – he couldn’t be part of the Catholic Church.  Secret policemen came to our house looking for him and said that they wanted to hire him as a wedding photographer. My father never did this kind of work; he was not a professional photographer. He was at our country house. The TV station convinced the police that my father would go voluntarily the next day to give his deposition. 

He went to the police station by himself. He was tortured; and he died the same day he presented himself. They said he had committed suicide. Many journalists were tortured at that time. In the Jewish tradition, if you kill yourself, you bring shame on yourself, so you have to be buried outside the boundaries of the cemetery. But the rabbi saw signs of violence on the body of my father, so they knew he had been killed. He buried my father in the middle of the cemetery, going against what the regime said. 


When your father was killed, it was a very sensitive time for Brazil, with a lot of in-fighting among military leaders. Can you say how this kind of tension can affect a prisoner or cases against  journalists?

In 1974, the opposition had a major victory in the senatorial elections. The most radical wing of the regime saw that their positions were in jeopardy; they said the communists were a danger for Brazil, and that it was not the time to go back toward full democracy. Journalists were caught in the middle of these disputes within the regime – one part was trying to move toward democracy, and the other side was trying to keep the regime in tact. When my father became head of journalism for the television station — he was appointed just three or four months before his death — there was a campaign saying that he was a communist. How could a communist lead journalists? They said it was a danger for families. 

Many universities went on strike as a protest against what had been happening; the archbishop of Sao Paulo, Rabbi Henry Sobel, and another priest, James Wright, had a ceremony on the seventh day following the death of my father. The police put blockades all around the city. There were over 8,000 people in the main cathedral. People went to the mass ceremony in silence and left in silence. It’s said that that day, October 7, was the milestone of the fall of dictatorship. 


What is the climate for journalists today? 

A 1979 law gave the regime the authority to block people from publishing about crimes from that time. We have the most violent police in the world. During the 20 years of the dictatorship, about 500 people were disappeared or assassinated. From 1985 until today, over 10,000 people have been killed by the police. We don’t have press regulations, which means a journalist can publish whatever he wants and he is not accountable for it. Nevertheless, local judges have successfully stopped the publication of articles. A major newspaper called O Estato de Sao Paulo – it’s the biggest in Brazil – they published a series of articles on the son of a former president, and the president was able to get an injunction. He was able to prevent that paper from publishing further articles on the subject. We also have a major debate on biographies and what can be published. 

Freedom House in Washington DC rates Brazil as “partially free.” But the biggest problem with the media is that the people don’t believe in it. There is a very strong governmental campaign against the media – and the campaign gets results. People are very suspicious. They gets news from sources that I don’t consider to be journalism. It’s just entertainment. Most people don’t care about reliable news. But we do get a lot of news from social media. 


Find out more about the work of the Vladimir Herzog Institute. Among its projects is Resist is a Must, which works on human rights education

Read all the interviews from our Journalism is Not a Crime series:

“It was a question of surviving one day to the next”

"I could hear my wife being tortured in the next cell"

Solidarity and the Underground Press

The Unwritten Laws of Argentina’s Dictatorship

Living in Fear: Censorship under Pinochet

Self-censorship is Extremely Hard to Shake off


This article was originally published to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, which takes place on May 3 each year. 

To learn more about issues affecting journalists in Iran please visit:



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