In Rio de Janeiro, armed men threaten photographers covering political campaign

New York, July 28, 2008–Armed and hooded men threatened three Brazilian photographers covering a weekend visit by Sen. Marcelo Crivella, a Rio de Janeiro mayoral candidate, to a poor city neighborhood. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Brazilian authorities to ensure that journalists covering sensitive issues such as drug trafficking and organized crime are able to work freely and without fear of reprisal.

The photographers, covering the mayoral campaign for the national dailies O Globo, O Dia, and Jornal do Brasil, traveled to the Vila de Cruzeiro neighborhood with Crivella on Saturday morning, according to reports in the local press. As the photographers took shots of the senator approaching a group of young men sitting at a local plaza, the men lowered their faces and yelled that they did not want to be photographed, O Globo reported.

The photographers continued walking and were approached by at least two hooded men on a motorcycle, one pointing a rifle. The assailants told the reporters they were forbidden from leaving the neighborhood unless they erased all their pictures, adding that they would “burn everyone” if the pictures were printed, according to Brazilian and international press reports. The journalists, whose names have not been made public for fear of retaliation, appeared to delete the photographs and were released, reports said.

Some photographs, however, were recovered, local press reports said. In its Sunday edition, O Globo published a photograph of Crivella and two young men who were looking down.

Local police and journalists believe the men who were photographed and those who later threatened the journalists were local drug traffickers, according to press reports. Rio de Janeiro police issued a statement today saying an investigation into the threats had been opened.

“We are alarmed by recent attacks on journalists covering sensitive stories such as organized crime. Sections of Rio de Janeiro are becoming no-go areas for reporters,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas Senior Program Coordinator. “The authorities must reverse this trend and ensure the safety of all journalists reporting on issues that affect the lives of Rio residents. It is unacceptable in a democracy like Brazil that armed men can prevent photographers covering a candidate for mayor on a campaign stop.”

While journalists working in isolated rural areas in Brazil are most vulnerable, reporters in large urban centers have recently come under attack by organized crime, CPJ research shows. On June 1, O Dia published a special report detailing the kidnapping and torture of a reporting team by an alleged paramilitary group on May 14 in Batan, another shantytown in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. After having been held for at least seven hours, the O Dia team was released on the condition that the journalists did not identify their captors, the report said. They had been investigating paramilitary presence in Batan.

On June 2, 2002, Tim Lopes, an award-winning reporter for TV Globo, disappeared in Vila Cruzeiro, 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.