Reporters Without Borders today condemned the sluggish reaction of the police in Niterói (in Rio de Janeiro state) to a complaint about repeated death threats and intimidation which journalist and environmentalist Vilmar Berna filed on 7 June and which was not passed on to the local judicial authorities until 5 July.
“The authorities did not take the case seriously until a national newspaper ran an article about it,” the press freedom organisation said. “Yet Berna is a recognised specialist in environmental issues who had already been threatened in the past and even had to leave Niterói twice. How is it that the police and judicial authorities reacted so slowly although they had to be aware of the case?”
Reporters Without Borders added: “As well as a judicial investigation, we call for an administrative investigation to establish exactly how these breaches of procedures occurred.”
The editor of a daily newspaper about the environment called the Jornal do Meio Ambiente, which has a magazine (Revista do Meio Ambiente) and a website (Portal do Meio Ambiente), Berna also helped found Rebia, the Brazilian Environmental News Network. He covers water pollution, illegal fishing and threats to protected marine fauna in Rio de Janeiro bay. It was Berna who revealed that fishermen were using fine-mesh nets that are banned.
A blood-stained, partially-charred body was left outside his home in Niterói at the beginning of May. Since then, he has been threatened repeatedly. He received many anonymous phone calls from a woman warning him that he would soon be killed. A friend told him he had heard that preparations were under way to beat him to death and throw his body in the sea. Then, six men forced their way into his home on the night of 27 May and threatened him.
After filing a complaint with the Niterói police on 7 June, Berna hired two bodyguards to protect his home. But he subsequently had to let them go because he did not have enough money to keep paying them. The daily A Folha de Sao Paulo ran a story about him on 2 July and the next day he wrote to national human rights secretary Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi.
Berna told Reporters Without Borders the authorities finally began to take action after the media reports about his case. His complaint was finally transferred to the local judicial authorities on 5 July, a month after he had filed it.