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Brazil: Authorities must ensure justice and accountability for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

jeudi 16 juin 2022 - 4:52pm

The disappearance of freelance journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous issues expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing on 5 June 2022 during a fact-finding trip in the Brazilian Amazon, shows the extent of the climate of hostility against journalists in Brazil. The government of Jair Bolsonaro has a duty to conduct a rigorous investigation into the disappearance, PEN International said today, as the organisation expresses its deep concern at reports that human remains were found during the search. All those responsible for their disappearance and, if confirmed, deaths, must be brought to justice.

British journalist Dom Phillips was on an investigative trip in the Indigenous territory of the Javari Valley with Indigenous issues expert Bruno Pereira. According to multiple news reports and a joint statement from two Indigenous rights groups, Phillips and Pereira were due to arrive in Atalaia do Norte, in the Amazonas state, on the morning of 5 June.

At a press conference held late on Wednesday 15 June 2022 in the state capital Manaus, Amazonas state Federal Police chief Eduardo Fontes reported that one of the two men arrested in connection with the pair’s disappearance had confessed to killing them; Fontes also announced that human remains were found in the Amazon earlier that day.

According to Fonte’s reports, Amarildo da Costa Oliveira (also known as “Pelado”), a suspect arrested on 7 June, confessed on Tuesday night to killing Phillips and Pereira. The information provided by da Costa Oliveira led the search teams to a site on Wednesday morning where the remains were found. Fonte declared that the evidence would be sent on Thursday to the forensic institute for identification, which could take a few days.

"The Brazilian authorities must conduct a prompt and thorough forensic investigation into the disappearance and, if confirmed, deaths of Phillips and Pereira. This heinous crime must be fully investigated and all those responsible must be brought to justice. PEN International continues to call for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these tragic events. Journalists investigating and reporting on indigenous issues in Brazil and beyond must be able to carry out their work without fear," said Ma Thida, President of Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International.

On 9 June 2020, the Amazonas state Court ordered the preventive arrest of da Costa Oliveira as a suspect in Phillips and Pereira’s disappearance, according to news reports. On 14 June 14 Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, Pelado’s brother, was also arrested as a suspect in the disappearance. On 12 June, the search teams had found clothes and a backpack that belonged to Phillips and Pereira, according to news reports.

Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist for many international media outlets including The Guardian, Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times and The Intercept. Most of his investigations are about environmental issues. In 2018, Phillips reported on the threats posed by illegal mining and cattle ranchers to uncontacted indigenous groups in the Brazil’s Javari Valley.

Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira has received threats for his work for years.

Rights groups have condemned the authorities' response to their disappearance as too slow, with President Jair Bolsonaro even appearing to blame them. Since the arrival of Bolsonaro to the presidency of Brazil, violence against journalists, including the aggressive rhetoric adopted by the president against them, has been one of the greatest challenges to freedom of expression in the country. Bloggers, radio and TV presenters, and print journalists covering local corruption issues are among the most vulnerable to attacks and the lack or protection at different levels. At least one journalist was killed in a possible link to their work in 2022.