Brazil: Anger at government inaction after Indigenous advocate and international correspondent are killed in the Amazon
Um mês do assassinato de Bruno e Dom. Há alguns meses, Bruno nos disse nesse áudio: “Tudo isso vai passar, eu espero”. Seguimos lutando para que esse período nefasto passe #PareOGenocídio, os povos indígenas e seus apoiadores sejam respeitados, e #JustiçaParaBrunoEDom seja feita. pic.twitter.com/KyZOgcZggH— Survival Brasil (@SurvivalBrasil) July 5, 2022
After a ten-day search, the bodies of Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips were found in the Itaquaí river, in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest near Brazil’s border with Peru. Pereira and Phillips went missing on 5th June 2022 as they returned from a reporting trip in the region where they were documenting Indigenous rights defenders’ efforts to monitor predatory criminal activities such as illegal fishing and mining.
Bruno Pereira was a civil servant who formerly headed efforts to protect Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. He had recently been working directly with Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley on the protection of their territories through União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (Union of the Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley – UNIVAJA). Dom Phillips was a journalist who had lived in Brazil for over ten years, and whose reporting increasingly focused on the Amazon rainforest and environmental issues. He was conducting interviews and research for a book about protecting the rainforest.
The response of the Brazilian authorities to the disappearances was slow and initial search efforts were largely led by UNIJAVA. On 15th June 2022, authorities confirmed that their bodies were found after a suspect confessed his involvement in the crime. The pair were ambushed, then shot and killed by members of an illegal fishing operation in protected areas of the Javari Valley, which Phillips had reportedly photographed a day earlier.
The disappearances and killings led to protests in a number of Brazilian cities, with people demanding justice for this brutal crime. While the search efforts were ongoing on 13th June 2022, Indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley region protested in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, to denounce the Bolsonaro government and the lack of protection over Indigenous territories. Several national and international organisations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace, called on the Brazilian authorities to investigate the killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.
A positive court ruling
I finished my official visit to #Brazil & thank state & nonstate actors for their welcome. I observed a robust & diverse civil society performing critical work & urge authorities to ensure a safe space for CSOs to avoid further erosion of #democracy.— UN Special Rapporteur Freedom of Association (@cvoule) April 13, 2022
PR: https://t.co/jxw83kwR5s pic.twitter.com/Bfqegp9UVx
In early April 2022, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association Clément Voule conducted a 12-day official visit to Brazil. During this period, Voule travelled to Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and São Paulo.
At the end of the visit, Voule urged the government to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for people to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and association. In his preliminary observations, Voule expressed concerns over restrictions on Brazilians’ rights to full and active social and political participation. He also raised concern over the appalling levels of violence against human rights defenders, women journalists, Indigenous peoples, and traditional communities, in particular those of African descent. The Special Rapporteur also underscored that the National Congress is considering several bills that would criminalise social movements, and called on the government to amend the draft laws to be in line with international standards.
Protests against police violence
On 17th May 2022, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), the Conselho Nacional Popular LGBTI (National LGBTI People’s Council) demonstrated in São Paulo. The Council highlighted the violence against LGBTQIA+ people in Brazil as well as the discriminatory political rhetoric targeting them. In Cabo Frio, Rio de Janeiro, activist groups organised booths to provide social services such as health tests, guidance on marriage registration and on procedures for rectifying birth registration, as well as some counselling.
Between April and May 2022, the Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers Movement – MST) mobilised to demand land reform, with the slogan: For Land, Housing and Bread. On 11th April, for instance, thousands of MST members walked across Feira de Santa, Bahia, starting a week-long march toward the state’s capital, Salvador. According to MST, there were over 60 protest actions taking place across Brazil as part of the mobilisation.
Filmmaker’s recording of police operation confiscated
A PRF confiscou o cartão de memória do cinegrafista Francisco Vidal, do SBT Rio, durante a operação das forças de segurança na Vila Cruzeiro (RJ). Segundo a emissora, a PRF teria oferecido as imagens para a Record, que não sabia que eram propriedade do SBT https://t.co/JEhE62m2YT— Portal dos Jornalistas (@JornalistaseCia) June 2, 2022
On 24th May 2022, a filmmaker’s memory card was confiscated by police during a military-style operation by security forces in the favela Vila Cruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro. Filmmaker Francisco Vidal was documenting the raid, which targeted one of Rio de Janeiro’s main criminal gangs, and resulted in the deaths of 23 people. A video recorded by the journalist showed a police team cornered in a crossfire and a forensic expert injured by shrapnel.
Broadcaster SBT was able to retrieve images from Vidal’s camera remotely by accessing a digital file in cloud storage. A TV presenter with SBT expressed indignation at the episode, saying that police not only seized the equipment but then gave access to the film to a competitor broadcaster.
The raid on Vila Cruzeiro was the second deadliest police operation in Rio’s history. A member of the Brazilian Bar Association’s human rights commission said there is evidence of human rights violations committed during the police operation, including extrajudicial executions and torture.
Journalists attacked and detained
Depois de repórter, editora do Congresso em Foco é ameaçada de estupro e de mortehttps://t.co/gJokJuBlyw— Associação Brasileira de Imprensa (ABI) (@ABI_Nacional) June 7, 2022
On 5th June 2022, journalist Vanessa Lippelt, editor of Congresso em Foco, received a death threat in an email sent to the outlet. The author of the threat claimed to have private information on Lippelt, her family and their address, and sent a photo of a gun for which they claimed to have purchased 200 live rounds. Lippelt was also threatened with rape. Another journalist with Congresso em Foco, Lucas Neiva, had been threatened on 4th June 2022 after publishing a report on far-right groups’ tactics using an anonymous online forum to spread false information favouring Bolsonaro.
On 8th May 2022, journalist Efrém Ribeiro with TV Piauí was arrested while trying to report on a complaint about the lack of medical staff and supplies at a hospital in Bom Jesus, Piauí state. According to Ribeiro, the directors of Hospital Regional Manoel de Sousa Santos called the police to stop him from reporting. However, the hospital’s directors denied this version and said that an ambulance driver called the police after Ribero filmed the arrival of a child without their family’s consent. The Piauí Union of Journalists and the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) condemned the arrest, saying it was “arbitrary and aggressive.”
On 16th May 2022, a reporter was attacked by a local councillor in Ouro Fino, Minas Gerais. Politician Paulo Luiz de Cantuária used his car to corner the motorbike of Alexandre Megale, who runs the news channel Sul das Gerais on YouTube, and then began attacking the communicator with stones. The reporter said that he lost consciousness during the assault, which was interrupted after witnesses recognised Cantuária and shouted for him to stop. Megale was hit on the head and had to be taken to the emergency room. However, he was wearing a helmet which prevented any serious injury. According to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), the attack was a reprisal for Megale’s reporting on the politician’s conviction to 16 years in prison for the rape of a minor.
On 28th May 2022, photojournalist Caio Castor was threatened by a group people in São Paulo. As reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a group of about 15 people gathered in front of the building where Castor lives with his family. They attempted to enter the building and threatened to “break everything” in his apartment. Earlier on the same day, the photojournalist had filmed three municipal guards hitting a woman and spraying her with what appeared to be pepper spray during a security operation targeting drug users. News outlet Ponte reported that local residents who supported the police action sent threatening messages via neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and gathered outside Castor’s residence to confront him. The group dispersed when a patrol car from the state civil police arrived.
Journalist slandered by congressman
On 3rd April 2022, veteran journalist Miriam Leitão was slandered by federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of President Bolsonaro, after she published a column claiming the president was a “declared enemy of democracy”. On Twitter, Eduardo Bolsonaro made an ironic comment about Leitão’s arrest and torture during the Brazilian military dictatorship. The Bolsonaro family and their supporters often question the accounts of torture by the dictatorship’s victims. Press associations, such as Fenaj and Abraji, said the legislator should face disciplinary proceedings and be removed from his position for condoning torture.
On 4th May 2022, the Chamber of Deputies’ Ethics and Parliamentary Decorum Council opened a case against Eduardo Bolsonaro over his comment on social media. On 17th May, Miriam Leitão wrote a column in the newspaper O Globo revealing audios of Superior Military Court sessions recorded in the 1970’s during the dictatorship. In the recordings, the ministers of the Military Court demonstrated awareness of cases of torture of pregnant political prisoners, including details about how the torture was carried out.
Uma sentença reformada pelo STJ e confirmada pelo STF, em fevereiro de 2022, já em fase de execução, obrigou o jornalista Rubens Valente a pagar ao ministro Gilmar Mendes cerca de R$ 310 mil por “danos morais” pela publicação do livro Operação Banqueiro. https://t.co/LVSdbh8Zk6— Agência Pública (@agenciapublica) July 21, 2022
On 6th May 2022, investigative journalist Rubens Valente was ordered to pay R$310,000 (about US$60,000) in moral damages to Justice Gilmar Mendes of the Federal Supreme Court (STF). The complaint against Valente stems from his book “Operação Banqueiro” (Operation Banker) about a corruption scandal and police operation known as Satiagraha which led to the arrest of banker Daniel Dantas in 2008. One of the book’s chapters recalls that the minister – then Chief Justice of the STF – granted two habeas corpus to the banker in less than 72 hours, a fact extensively reported on in the press that year. Mendes’ complaint against Valente argued that the facts were presented out of context and the journalist implied his partiality in the trial.
The sentence against Valente was confirmed by the Supreme Court itself, whose ruling also upheld an order that any reprint of the book must include Mendes’ petition and the sentence. This would amount to censorship because these court documents would add so many pages to the text that a physical re-print would become financially unviable. Various press organisations and associations denounced the danger that this precedent sets for freedom of expression. The journalist’s lawyer and Abraji, in collaboration with two international organisations, Media Defence and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said they would take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Over 2,400 people donated to a crowdfunding campaign so that Valente could pay the required compensation, which he said was more than he had saved after 30 years of work as a journalist.
In a separate case, on 17th May 2022 Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ) archived a complaint against journalist André Barrocal for criminal defamation, filed by Attorney General Augusto Aras. The case referred to a column Barrocal wrote for Carta Capital magazine in July 2020 in which he criticised Aras’s actions as Attorney General. In the text, the journalist said Aras acted as President Bolsonaro’s watchdog and “pet prosecutor.” The Superior Court reversed a previous decision by a lower court. In the ruling, Justice Sebastião Reis said that admitting the complaint against a journalist for criticising a high-ranking public official would amount to keeping journalism under constant threat. Reis noted:
“Admitting criminal actions for ‘crimes against honour’ committed by journalists, for the simple inappropriate or aggressive use of words and for the discomfort caused to the criticised, will be a dangerous step towards the much feared control of journalistic activity.”
In another case on 9th June 2022, a judge in a São Paulo state civil court ordered journalist Juliana Dal Piva to pay damages to President Bolsonaro’s lawyer Frederick Wassef for publishing messages in which he threatened the journalist in 2021. The judge ruled that Julia Dal Piva’s publication was “unauthorised,” and ordered her to pay Wassef R$10,000 (US$2,000) in damages. However, in the same ruling, the court ordered Wassef to pay the same amount to Dal Piva for damages relating to the “negative repercussion” to her life caused by his allegations about her professional ethics and sexuality.
Civil society organisations call for protection of press freedom ahead of 2022 elections
On 3rd May 2022, World Press Freedom Day, ten civil society organisations published an open letter warning ofthe potential risks of press freedom violations in the run-up to Brazil’s October 2022 national elections. The organisations pointed out that the work of the press is particularly essential during electoral periods in ensuring people’s right to access information and holding governments and authorities accountable. They called on public officials and political candidates to refrain from stigmatising journalists or inciting attacks on the press.
Dismantling of access to information law
In May 2022, freedom of expression watchdog Article 19 published a report assessing the ten years since the implementation of Brazil’s Access to Information Law (LAI). The watchdog found that the anniversary comes at a time when the regime and culture of transparency in Brazil are threatened. Adoption of secrecy procedures by public authorities have become more trivial, leading to an undermining of transparency. Oversight bodies have not acted to enforce compliance, even when institutions or authorities failed to provide public interest information. The report also looks at the implementation of the LAI in thematic areas, such as sexual and reproductive health, Indigenous populations, and the pandemic.
On 13th May 2022, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled that a document with data on civil servants’ political affiliations was unconstitutional. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, documents leaked in 2020 showed that a branch of the Ministry of Justice had produced a dossier to identify almost 600 public servants believed to be members of antifascist groups. In August 2020, the Court suspended the use of such dossiers.
In the new court decision, STF Justices ruled that such documents are illegal, and reaffirmed that intelligence services and government bodies must respect democratic principles. Justice Carmen Lúcia argued that persecution of political opponents or “political hijacking” must not be allowed. André Mendonça, who was Minister of Justice when the documents came to light, was appointed by President Jair Bolsonaro to the Supreme Court in 2021. Mendonça recused himself from the court case.
UN Special Rapporteur in Brazil
Justiça por Genivaldo: em Sergipe a luta continua— CUT Sergipe (@cutsergipe_br) May 31, 2022
Próximo sábado, a manifestação será na Pça do Cuscuz em Umbaúba. Na última sexta-feira, 27, o protesto foi em frente à Polícia Federal https://t.co/AKXVjd9SsO pic.twitter.com/dYrwpELg8H
On 26th May 2022, demonstrators in Umbaúba, Sergipe, marched to demand justice for Genivaldo de Jesus, a local 38-year-old Black man who was killed by the Federal Highway Police (PRF). Witnesses recorded a video of PRF agents restraining Genivaldo, forcing him into the trunk of a patrol car filled with tear gas, and holding the trunk’s lid closed for about a minute and half. Genivaldo later died of mechanical asphyxiation and acute respiratory failure.
The PRF said in a statement that the deceased had resisted arrest, and that officers used “immobilisation techniques and instruments of lower offensive potential” to restrain him. The shocking case sparked protests in front of the national headquarters of the PRF in Brasília, and in other cities, such as Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations called for a prompt and thorough investigation into the killing, and said that “disproportionate police violence won’t stop until authorities take definitive action to stop it.”
Earlier in the same month, hundreds of people gathered to protest police violence against vulnerable people living in an area of São Paulo known as Cracolândia (Crackland), a degraded neighbourhood in the city’s centre that has become infamous for drug users, dealers, and homeless people. The area has often been targeted by urban revitalisation campaigns that lead to violent police operations attempting to evict these populations. On 21st May 2022, harm reduction activists of Craco Resiste, local residents, and shop owners organised a protest against the municipality’s latest efforts to disperse those living in the region.
Marches for rights