Police arrest suspect in journalist’s murder

New York, September 20, 2002—Brazilian police yesterday captured a local drug trafficker who was the leading suspect in the disappearance and murder of prominent journalist Tim Lopes.

Elias Pereira da Silva, also known as Elias the Madman, was apprehended in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or shantytowns, after a two-day search. In early August, several members of his gang, who were charged with murdering the journalist, were arrested or killed in a shootout with the police.

“We congratulate the Brazilian authorities in apprehending the alleged murderer of Tim Lopes,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Too often around the world, those who murder journalists get away with it. We are hopeful in this case that justice will be done.”

Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers on June 3, 2002. He had disappeared several hours earlier while working on assignment in the favela of Vila Cruzeiro.

On June 2, the 51-year-old Lopes traveled to Vila Cruzeiro. His driver met him at the favela 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 .”

Report on sex parties
According to TV Globo, Lopes was working on a report about parties that allegedly involved drugs and the sexual exploitation of minors. On June 3, TV Globo reported Lopes’ disappearance to the police.”

According to the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, two suspects, both members of the gang headed by Pereira da Silva, 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.”

Drug traffickers close to Pereira da Silva kidnapped Lopes in Vila Cruzeiro at around midnight on June 2, according to the suspects’ depositions. 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 to keep him from escaping. Then they held a mock trial and sentenced Lopes to death. Pereira da Silva killed Lopes with a sword, and his body was burned and buried in a clandestine cemetery, said the suspects.”

On June 12, police found badly decomposed human remains, along with Lopes’ camera and watch, in an clandestine cemetery in Favela da Grota. After DNA tests, the police confirmed on July 5 that the remains belonged to Lopes.

Award-winning reporter
Lopes received Brazil’s most important journalism award in December 2001 for a TV Globo report on drug trafficking. The report, titled “Drug Fair,” was broadcast in August 2001. It 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, said that she received death threats in September 2001 and had to leave Rio de Janeiro State. The daily Jornal do Brasil reported that Lopes had also received threats for the report..”

On June 10, CPJ sent a letter to Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso urging him to do everything in his power to ensure that those who planned and carried out the murder were brought to justice.