June 10, 2002
His Excellency Fernando Henrique Cardoso
President of the Federal Republic of Brazil
Palácio do Planalto
Via facsimile: 55-61-411-2222
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply saddened by the murder of journalist Tim Lopes, whose death was officially confirmed by the Rio de Janeiro police yesterday, June 9.
Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo in Brazil, had disappeared several days earlier while working on assignment in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, at an impoverished community, known as a favela.
On June 2, the 50-year-old Lopes traveled to Favela Vila Cruzeiro. His driver met him at the favela at about 8 p.m., but the journalist told the driver that he needed more time to finish his work. They agreed to meet again at 10 p.m., but Lopes never arrived. This was Lopes’ fourth visit to Vila Cruzeiro, and this time, he was carrying a hidden camera.
According to TV Globo, Lopes was working on a report about parties hosted by drug traffickers in Vila Cruzeiro that allegedly involved drugs and the sexual exploitation of minors. The inhabitants of the favela had told Lopes that they were powerless against drug traffickers and had complained about the lack of police action.
According to the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, two suspects, both members of a gang headed by local drug trafficker Elias Pereira da Silva, a leading suspect in the disappearance of Lopes, were arrested on the morning of June 9. Both men claimed that they heard how Lopes was murdered but denied any involvement in his killing.
According to the suspects’ depositions, details of which the police released and the Brazilian press published, drug traffickers close to Pereira da Silva kidnapped Lopes in Vila Cruzeiro around midnight on June 2. After Lopes told them he was a TV Globo reporter, the traffickers called Pereira da Silva, who was in a nearby favela.
They tied Lopes’ hands, forced him into a car, and took him to the favela where Pereira da Silva was staying. There, they beat the reporter and shot him in the feet so that he could not escape. Then they held a mock trial and sentenced Lopes to death. Pereira da Silva killed Lopes with a sword, and the body was burned and buried in a clandestine cemetery, said the suspects.
The police found charred human remains shortly after Lopes’ disappearance. Based on testimony by the two suspects, however, law enforcement officials do not think the unidentified body is that of Lopes and they continue to search for the reporter’s body.
Lopes received Brazil’s most important journalism award in December 2001 for a TV Globo report on drug trafficking. The report, which was titled “Drug Fair” and was broadcast in August 2001, was filmed with a hidden camera and showed how traffickers sold drugs in a makeshift open drug market in a favela outside Rio de Janeiro.
Reporter Cristina Guimarães, who co-produced the report with Lopes and two other colleagues, received death threats in September 2001 and had to leave the state of Rio de Janeiro, according to the daily O Estado de S. Paulo. The daily Jornal do Brasil reported that Lopes had also received threats for the report.
As a press freedom organization of journalists who believe that our colleagues should be able to work freely and without fear of reprisal, CPJ applauds Your Excellency’s condemnation yesterday of the murder of Tim Lopes. As you may know, CPJ recently released a report showing that during the last decade, 389 journalists were killed while carrying out their work.
Of those 389 victims, however, CPJ only recorded 20 cases in which the person or persons who ordered a journalist’s murder were arrested and prosecuted. That means that in 94 percent of the cases, those who murder journalists do so without facing any consequences for their action. As I am sure you will agree, these numbers are extremely disturbing.
We urge you, Your Excellency, to do everything in your power to ensure that those who planned and carried out this barbaric crime are brought to justice and that the rights of all Brazilians to information of public interest are thereby upheld.