The killing by drug traffickers of TV Globo reporter Tim Lopes, who had been investigating their operations in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, dismayed journalists and sparked a debate about media safety and working conditions. Some people feared "Colombianisation" - submergence of the whole society to organised crime and impunity - especially when Rio’s most powerful drug cartel tried to show its muscle by paralysing the city in late September, a few days before the general election.
Barely three months after the death of Lopes, another journalist was killed by gangsters in the western state of Mato Grosso. The two crimes were all the more disturbing because policemen either took part in them or obstructed investigations afterwards. Despite the arrest of the suspected killers of Lopes, impunity remained a major concern in press freedom in Brazil, where 15 journalists have been killed since 1991.
A Reporters Without Borders enquiry in Bahia state into the 1998 murder of Manuel de Oliveira revealed many irregularities in the first months of the investigation of the crime. The organisation’s report said the case showed the weakness of a system that put civil police who were under the thumb of local politicians in charge of an investigation into the murder of a journalist who had criticised one of those politicians.
2002 was also an election year and the media was victim once again of special laws that greatly restricted news published about candidates. Several court decisions openly revived censorship, which seemed an anachronism in a country where democracy was restored more than 15 years ago.
The courts also continued to impose prison sentences for journalists, commutable to fines or community service, in violation of international rulings that imprisonment for peaceful expression of opinion is a serious violation of human rights.
Two journalists killed
Tim Lopes, of TV Globo, was murdered during the night of 2-3 June 2002 as he was investigating the use of child prostitutes by drug traffickers in the Rio de Janeiro slum of Vila de Cruzeiro. He was spotted by drug dealers as he was taking pictures with a micro-camera. He was tortured and then stabbed to death by local drug-lord Elias Pereira ("Crazy Elias") and his body burned.
His remains were found on 5 July in a secret burial ground in Grota, another slum neighbourhood. Arrest warrants were issues for nine members of Crazy Elias’ gang. In subsequent weeks, two of them died, one killed by police during interrogation. Crazy Elias was the last of the gang to be arrested, on 19 September, after weeks of delay caused by police he had corrupted.
Sávio Brandão, owner of the daily Folha do Estado, in Cuiabá, capital of the western state of Mato Grosso, was killed on 30 September by two men on a motor-cycle. The paper had deplored the arrival of organised crime in the region, especially through gambling and slot-machines. Brandão also owned a construction firm and several media outlets, including the station Radio Cidade. His staff said he had not been previously threatened. In early October, Hércules Araújo Coutinho, a military police corporal, and Célio Alves de Souza, a former military policeman, were arrested. Araújo Coutinho was identified by witnesses, ballistic tests and fingerprints, but he denied involvement in killing the journalist.
Businessman João Arcanjo Ribeiro, a former policeman suspected of controlling gambling in Mato Grosso, was charged on 11 December with murdering two people and with corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion. He was also suspected of ordering Brandão’s murder. The men who carried out the killing he was charged with were the two policemen arrested in the Brandão case.
New information on journalists killed before 2002
Thomaz Iracy Moisés Guedes, accused of the 1998 murder of journalist Manuel Leal de Oliveira, was arrested in July 2002. A month later, he was also charged with killing Leopoldino "Popo" Nobre, a key witness who died before he could give evidence. On 25 February, Mozart Costa Brazil, a policeman also accused of killing the journalist, had been freed on a habeas corpus application to await trial. The third suspect, Marcone Sarmento, was still on the run. The three men had been charged in September 2001.
Leal de Oliveira, who published the weekly A Região in Itabuna (Bahia state), was killed on 14 January 1998 after criticising the town’s mayor, Fernando Gomes, for corruption. A Reporters Without Borders / Damocles Network fact-finding mission in August 2002 noted that the investigation by the Bahia state civil police had been closed in September 1998 without any arrests and without questioning mayor Gomes. In May 2000, legal proceedings resumed after revelations in the regional daily A Tarde, but despite calls for further investigation, little progress was made in the case.
Paulo Sérgio Mendes Lima was sentenced to 19 years in prison by a court in Eunápolis (Bahia state) on 22 November for murdering journalist Ronaldo Santana de Araújo. He said he had been contacted by the town’s former mayor, Paulo Ernesto Ribeira da Silva (also known as Paulo Dapé) to carry out the killing. Former policeman Mendes Lima had recruited the killer, Alexandro Borges, who was on the run, and had taken part in the murder himself. The ex-mayor was charged with the killing. Santana de Araújo, who worked for Radio Jornal and Radio Jacarandá, both in Eunápolis, was murdered on 9 October 1997. He had regularly criticised the mayor’s running of the town.
A journalist arrested
Fábio Grellet, of the daily paper Agora São Paulo, was arrested on 14 November 2002 for "insulting an official" and "refusing to obey an order" by assistant police commissioner Rogério Lopes de Figueiredo. The journalist was at a police station to investigate an attack on a gypsy when the policeman became angry when asked to confirm information already given by military police. Grellet was briefly detained and his notes confiscated.
Five journalists physically attacked
Marcelo Fraga, of the station TV Jangadeiro, in Ceará state, was attacked on 1 August 2002 by an official of the state assembly after the journalist had asked a question that irritated Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) deputy Welington Landim, who was running for governor. The official, Luciano Luque, denied attacking Fraga and accused him of helping Landim’s rivals. The assembly opened an investigation into the incident.
Marcio Fernandes, of the daily Estado de São Paulo, was handcuffed and roughed up by security officials of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) on 27August while covering a meeting in Tupã (São Paulo state) held by Rita Camata, the party’s candidate for the country’s vice-presidency. Rita Camata herself asked the security men to release the journalist and the party apologised to the newspaper.
A team from the TV station Rede Record was attacked, along with ecology activists, on 22 September after filming the illegal felling of trees in Porto de Moz, in Pará state. The town’s mayor, Gerson Campos, who also owned a sawmill, encouraged townspeople to go to the local airport to stop the journalists leaving with the film. Despite protection by military police, the attackers managed to seize the film.
Four journalists threatened
Aluysio Abreu Barbosa, publisher of the daily Folha da Manhã in Rio de Janeiro state, received threats in June 2002 after the paper ran articles about illegal petrol sales. An enquiry was launched after the report and a policeman arrested.
Saulo Borges and Joana Queiroz, of the Manaus daily A Critica, were threatened at the end of August while investigating the appearance in Amazonas state of a death squad, reportedly of policemen. They were given protection.
Jutan Araújo, of the station TV Camaçari, in the town of the same name in Bahia state, received death threats in July and August after a report he did in early July about poor families squatting on land in the town. Soon after the report was shown, the families were evicted and three days after that Araújo began getting threats saying he had made many people look bad and warning that he would be followed everywhere.
Pressure and obstruction
A Rio de Janeiro judge threatened the weekly Carta Capital on 20 May with a fine if it published an interview with businessman Guilherme Freire in which he accused the then Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate in the presidential elections, Anthony Garotinho, of corruption. The candidate had filed a suit against the weekly, saying the article was based on illegal recordings of his phone conversations with the businessman. On 22 May, an appeals judge said the interview could be published, but without the transcription of the phone calls.
On 23 May, a judge in São Paulo state banned the press from publishing anything about disciplinary proceedings against labour court judge Renato Mehan Khamis for sexual harassment. The judge had imposed a similar ban on 24 January.
Marcelo Rech, editor of the daily Zero Hora, and José Barrionuevo, of Radio Gaúcha, both based in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul state), were sentenced on 6 June to five months and 10 days in prison or a fine for criticising state governor Olivio Dutra’s position on the destruction by demonstrators on 20 April of a 500-year old clock in the city. The judge said there was a limit to criticism.
On 23 October, an electoral court in Brasilia ordered the seizure, "by force if necessary," of all copies of the next day’s issue of the daily Correio Brazilense if it contained transcripts of phone conversations between state governor Joaquim Roriz and two businessmen, the Passos brothers, implicating him in illegal land expropriation.
The higher electoral court ruled on appeal on 25 October that the written media could not be pre-censored. The ruling also applied to three papers in the federal district that had been banned from printing transcripts of recordings compromising Geraldo Magela, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate for governor.
Luis Nassif, of the daily Folha de São Paulo, was sentenced on 27 October to three months imprisonment, or three months of community service and a fine, for writing on 29 September that a company had filed an "ill-advised" lawsuit. Legal experts said jurisprudence did not consider criticism as "intent to cause harm," which the judge had found Nassief guilty of.