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Brazil22 May 2006

Gunmen threaten staff and torch latest issue in dawn attack on local daily

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an attack on a local daily in São Paulo state on 18 May by three hooded gunmen, who torched that day’s issue, hit employees and ordered them to stop publishing news about the “First Commando of the City” (PCC), a criminal gang responsible for an unprecedented wave of violence in São Paulo city in the past 10 days.

The newspaper targeted was Imprensa Livre, which is based in the coastal town of São Sebastião.

“The attack illustrates the kind of violence to which the local Brazilian press is still exposed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Investigators must consider all possibilities including an operation by the PCC or by police officers bent on revenge for the deaths of many colleagues during a week of attacks on police stations. São Paulo’s governor has himself acknowledged that the police may have been responsible for many abuses.”

The three gunmen burst into the premises of Imprensa Livre at around 4 a.m., when a total of seven employees were present. They were armed with handguns and what appeared to be a 12-calibre rifle, and were carrying cans of petrol. Two of the employees - journalist César Rodrigues and a graphic designer managed to escape - but the others were punched and kicked, doused in petrol and made to lie on the ground.

The gunmen then set fire to virtually all the copies of that day’s issue and gave orders for the newspaper’s journalists to stop carrying reports about the PCC, the gang that went on the rampage in São Paulo after some of its members were transferred from one prison to another against their will.

Imprensa Livre’s staff do not however think the PCC was responsible for the attack on their newspaper. Asked whether he thought it was linked to their recent scathing reports about the municipal government, Rodrigues was cautious but did not exclude the possibility.

The fire caused serious damaged to printing equipment as well as destroying some 3,000 copies of the newspaper. A few copies were saved and were distributed to subscribers with the next day’s issue, which bore a red stamp saying “D-Day” as a souvenir of this “stupid” act of violence, deputy editor Gabriela Wotzasek said

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