Paris, 17 October 2002
Ten days before the second round of the presidential elections, Reporters Without Borders calls on both of you to give an undertaking to fight against the impunity enjoyed by those who kill journalists in Brazil.
Our organisation urges you to undertake, if elected, to do everything possible to ensure that proposed constitutional amendment No. 29/2000, concerning judicial reform, is adopted as soon as possible. This includes a proposal to put the federal judicial authorities in charge of prosecuting all serious human rights crimes and violations including the murders of journalists, and would allow the federal police to investigate these cases. Passed on its first reading by deputies in Brasilia, this reform must now be approved by the senate.
Reporters Without Borders believes that such a transfer of authority to the federal police, known to be better equipped and less tied to local political interests, could alone constitute an effective measure to combat impunity.
Most of the murders of journalists have occurred in the provinces where local caciques do not always tolerate the countervailing power of the press, so this struggle against impunity would constitute a commitment on your part to consolidate local democracy, still fragile in many regions of Brazil.
Fifteen journalists have been killed in Brazil since 1991. Most of them worked for small publications or provincial radio stations, and paid with their lives for their reports on the misdoings of local politicians or local police abuses. Although investigations have been carried out, almost all these murders ended up being unpunished.
It is this impunity that has led Reporters Without Borders to question the way judicial authority is organised in Brazil, a federation of states. Under this federal system, the murder of a journalist falls exclusively within the competence of the state judiciary, which is more susceptible to local pressure, and the civilian police, which is controlled by local elected officials.
On 3 October, our organisation published a report pointing out serious irregularities in the investigation into the murder of Manuel Leal de Oliveira, editor of A Região, a weekly published in Itabuna (Bahia). Leal was killed on 14 January 1998 after criticising Itabuna mayor Fernando Gomes, an ally of former state governor Antonio Carlos Magalhães, who heads the right-wing Liberal Front Party (PFL).
In our view, the Leal case highlights the limits of a system which puts a local police force controlled by local elected officials, in this case the state of Bahia civilian police, in charge of investigating the murder of a journalist who had criticised one of these local elected officials.
The two murders of journalists that have taken place in 2002 sadly confirm our analysis. In the murder of Tim Lopes, a TV Globo journalist who was killed by drug dealers on 2 June, the arrest of the presumed perpetrators was delayed because of the complicity they enjoyed within the state police force, which was in charge of the investigation.
In the 30 September murder of journalist Sávio Brandão, the main suspect is Hercules Araújo Agostinho, a corporal in the military police, which is also under the control of local authorities. Following this murder, it emerged that Araújo Agostinho is suspected in the killings of 11 other persons during the past six years and that he was never detained because of the protection he apparently received from some of his superiors. The owner of the Folha do Estado, a daily published in the state of Mato Grosso, Brandão was killed after publishing reports on the spread of organised crime in region.
Our organisation looks forward to responses from you, the candidates, before 26 October and we undertake to publish your responses as soon as they are received.
Read the report on the murder of Manuel Leal de Oliveira