More than one hundred organizations have signed a letter calling on the branches of government to investigate and punish acts of administrative misconduct. The reason for the request is the lack of transparency by the federal government in the release of data on the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the letter, the official website where data on the coronavirus in Brazil is released was offline between June 5 and 6. The electronic address now has a new site that does not report the accumulated number of cases and deaths, nor the infection and death rates per 100,000 inhabitants and lethality.
The measure taken by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro also removed historical data on Covid-19 in Brazil from the SUS (public healthcare system) repository. And the Ministry of Health has announced that it will recount the number of deaths, accusing state governments of falsifying data, even though the ministry has not proved this.
In the letter, the organizations highlight that the elimination of official information should be viewed with concern “because transparency mechanisms are essential in a democratic government to permit public participation and accountability. During the pandemic, opaqueness can cost lives”.
On the position of the federal government in relation to Covid-19 data, the organizations condemn what they consider abuse of authority in the attempt to obstruct the right to information.
The signatories of the letter are calling for the protection of the country in an appeal for the defense of transparency. According to the organizations, the federal government’s attempt to control the narrative of the pandemic will come at the cost not only of democracy, but also the lives of thousands of people, especially the most vulnerable.
Read the letter in full:
Open Letter to the Federal Government: Opaqueness Costs Lives
On the evening of June 5 until the following day, June 6, 2020, the official website with data on Covid-19 in Brazil was offline. The new site does not contain data of fundamental importance for the proper control of the pandemic, such as the accumulated number of cases and deaths, nor does it report the infection and death rates per 100,000 inhabitants and lethality. The inability to download the official database, which would allow this information to be better shared and used, is another serious obstacle in the way of the right to public information.
Retroactive measures were also taken to hinder access to information. The databases with the historical data on Covid-19 in Brazil have been removed from the SUS (public healthcare system) repository. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has announced a recount of the number of deaths, accusing state governments of falsifying data but without providing any evidence.
The elimination of an official information website should be viewed with concern. The transparency mechanisms are essential in a democratic government to permit public participation and accountability. During the pandemic, opaqueness can cost lives.
The case proves even more serious when President Jair Bolsonaro attributes some of the changes to a desire to undermine journalistic coverage of the pandemic, as when he was asked by reporters about the delay in the publication of the data, he replied: “there’s no story for the evening news”. The use of the machinery of government to attack the press, however, is nothing new to the Jair Bolsonaro government.
The lack of official information on the pandemic is not just an attack on access to information, it also attacks freedom of expression and of the press. These are not isolated cases, but instead they are part of an ongoing and systematic use of the machinery of government to hinder the work of communicators, create a hostile environment for them to practice journalism and, at the same time, reduce transparency in Jair Bolsonaro’s government. Furthermore, the right to knowledge of the entire Brazilian population is violated – which is particularly serious given the current public health emergency.
The federal government’s attempt to control the narrative of the pandemic through opaqueness and sharing information without scientific evidence or being based on reality comes at the cost not only of democracy, but also the lives of thousands of people, especially the most vulnerable.
The organizations listed below condemn the abuse of authority by the senior levels of the Brazilian federal government and the attempt to obstruct the right to information and journalism by hiding information of public interest. We appeal to the other branches of government to investigate and punish any acts of administrative misconduct with the utmost rigor. The times call for joint efforts to protect the country and the population, to defend transparency, freedom and democracy.