Brazil: CPJ appalled by reported torture of journalists, driver

New York, June 2, 2008--The Committee to Protect Journalists is shocked by allegations that a paramilitary group with links to local police kidnapped and tortured two journalists and a driver working undercover in a Rio de Janeiro slum. CPJ called on Brazilian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.

"We are appalled by O Dia's allegations that two of its journalists and a driver were kidnapped and brutalized," said CPJ's Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. "Brazilian authorities must thoroughly examine allegations linking the captors to local police, and they must bring those responsible for this crime to justice."

According to a special report published on Sunday in the Rio de Janeiro-based daily O Dia, a photographer and a driver working undercover for the paper in Batan, a shantytown located in the western outskirts of the city, were kidnapped at a local bar by several armed men in ski masks on the night of May 14. The assailants then drove to a small house that the O Dia team had rented in Batan; there, the team's reporter was forced at gunpoint into a car with the two others, O Dia said in its special report. O Dia did not identify the journalists or the driver for fear of retaliation.

The journalists and the driver were taken to a nearby house, where the masked men beat them repeatedly, gave them electric shocks, put plastic bags over their heads, and threatened to kill them, O Dia reported. At least one of the attackers identified himself as a member of the local police. The assailants mentioned details of the reporters' personal lives, according to the report. Around 4:30 a.m., after having been held for at least seven hours, the O Dia journalists were released on the condition that they not identify their captors, the report said.

O Dia Director Alexandre Freeland said in a statement published in the paper that the reporters were receiving medical and psychological treatment. According to Freeland, O Dia informed Gov. Sergio Cabral and local police about the matter. In its report, the paper said it delayed publicizing the abduction so as not to interfere with the police investigation.

Cabral said on Sunday that the reported abduction was "absolutely intolerable" and that authorities were conducting a rigorous investigation, according to press reports. There is an ongoing investigation in the internal affairs department of Rio de Janeiro's police, the Rio State Public Security Department was quoted saying in local press reports.

According to O Dia, the team had been working in Batan since May 1. They were investigating how paramilitary groups run Batan, charging residents for protection, controlling local politics and illegally selling gas and cable television. The Associated Press reported that militias have moved into nearly 15 percent of Rio de Janeiro's poor neighborhoods during the last year, charging residents up to US$14 a month for protection against violent drug gangs. The militias are made up of active and former police officers, firefighters, private security officers and prison guards, AP said.

Six years ago today, Tim Lopes, an award-winning reporter for TV Globo, disappeared in Vila Cruzeiro, another poor Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, while working on a report about parties that were hosted by drug traffickers and that allegedly involved the sexual exploitation of minors. Lopes was found dead 10 days later. He had been tortured and slain with a sword. In 2005, six defendants were tried, convicted, and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison apiece. A seventh defendant, whose testimony helped convict the other six men, was later sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. The mastermind was also convicted and received a 28-year sentence.

June 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET |

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