New York, May 28, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Wednesday’s conviction in the June 2003 murder of Brazilian journalist Nicanor Linhares but calls on the authorities to ensure that all those involved in the killing of the radio host are brought to justice.
Judge Francisco Mario Liberato sentenced Cássio Santana de Sousa to 23 years in prison for his participation in Linhares’ killing in the northern city of Fortaleza, according to local news reports. Santana was convicted on a murder charge, the national daily O Globo reported.
“We welcome this conviction as a sign that those who murder journalists will not go unpunished,” said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Brazilian authorities must now ensure that all other individuals involved in the murder of Nicanor Linhares–including the masterminds–are punished to the full extent of the law.”
Linhares, 42, the magnetic and controversial host of the top-rated “Encontro Político” (Political Encounter) on Rádio Vale do Jaguaribe in the city of Limoeiro do Norte in the state of Ceará, was killed on June 30, 2003, by two armed men who stormed into the booth where Linhares was taping his show. Prior to his death, the journalist had actively supported a mayoral campaign on his show and fiercely criticized rival candidate Maria Arivan de Holanda Lucena on a daily basis.
In October 2003, prosecutors accused Arivan and her husband, federal judge José María de Oliveira Lucena, of hiring the two hit men who gunned down Linhares. In May 2004, at the request of federal prosecutors, a judge from the Brasília-based Superior Tribunal of Justice, the nation’s second highest court, indicted the couple. Lucena was formally charged on March 20, 2008, by the Superior Tribunal of Justice, which has the power to try judges, according to local news reports. Arivan asked to be tried with her husband, but in December 2008, the tribunal ruled that she should be tried before a trial court, said local news reports. No trial date has been set.
Lindenor de Jesus Moura Júnior and Francisco José de Oliveira Maia, the two gunmen, were respectively sentenced to 26 and eight years in prison in December 2008, according to local press reports. They have both appealed the decisions, the national daily O Globo reported.
Prosecutors accused Francisco Edésio Almeida, a former sergeant in the Brazilian army, of serving as an intermediary, the Brazilian daily O Povo reported. However, due to a change in counsel, his trial has been postponed, the local press reported.
Five radio journalists, including Linhares, have been killed in the Northeast Region of Brazil alone since 2001, making this region one of the deadliest areas for journalists in the Americas, a 2006 CPJ special report found. Throughout the Northeast interior, radio commentators are routinely involved in politics, campaigning for allies and attacking foes. They often use the airwaves as a springboard for their own political aspirations. Yet these commentators also give voice to the local population’s everyday concerns and directly intervene to provide assistance to the poor.
Historically, Brazil has had a poor record of solving journalist murders. It currently ranks 13th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. Brazilian journalists covering crime, corruption, and local politics have faced brutal consequences. But unlike most countries on this index, Brazil has had some recent success in prosecuting the killers of journalists, obtaining convictions in four slayings, including Linhares’, since 1999.
“This record is an important step in the quest for justice in Brazil,” added Lauría. “By prosecuting journalists’ murderers, Brazil is making strides in the fight against impunity worldwide.”
EDITOR”S NOTE: The original version of this alert has been altered in paragraph 2 to correct the charge against the defendant.