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Brazil17 August 2006

Threats force O Dia reporter into hiding after writing about trafficking in bodies

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at the threats that O Dia reporter Maria Mazzei and her family have been receiving since 15 August as a result of her reports about the trafficking in human bodies in Rio de Janeiro, and her claim that employees of the Medical Forensic Institute (IML) were selling cadavers to the so-called “Máfia dos Corpos” (Body Mafia).

“We are deeply disturbed by the repeated acts of violence against Brazilian journalists who probe sensitive issues, especially as Mazzei has been forced to go into hiding as a result of these threats,” the press freedom organisation said. “We call on the local and federal authorities to lose no time in exposing those responsible for this intimidation.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “The government must urgently react to the mounting violence so that journalists can work freely and without fear. We point out that this case comes 48 hours after the abduction of TV Globo reporter Guilherme Portanove and his assistant Alexandre Coelho in Sao Paulo.”

In her series of articles, Mazzei revealed that bodies are stolen in order to swindle insurance companies. On 12 August, she interviewed former naval officer Yussef Georges Sarkis, 52, who allegedly simulated his own death to get a life insurance indemnity of 1 million reals. Sarkis claimed in the interview, which was recorded, that his friends included kidnappers and police officers.

Mazzei began receiving telephone threats after the articles were published, while her neighbours reported seeing a car circling her home. O Dia reported this to the police and then, with a police escort, moved Mazzei and her family to a safe location.

In a letter to secretary of state for public security Roberto Precioso on 15 August, O Dia wrote: “The newspaper has taken all the measures within its means, but security issues are directly and definitively the responsibility of the state, which has the duty in this case to provide constant protection for Maria Mazzei and her family until the criminals involved are arrested and handed over to the judicial authorities.”

Calling the threats to Mazzei are unacceptable, Precioso said the police would find out who was behind them.

Medical Forensic Institute staff, funeral parlour employees and insurance fraud specialists are all allegedly involved in the body-trafficking exposed by Mazzei.

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