Brazilian journalists injured while covering protests

São Paulo, May 1, 2015–At least five Brazilian journalists were injured while covering clashes on Wednesday between police and striking teachers in the southern state of Paraná, according to news reports and local journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attacks and calls on Brazilian authorities to ensure the perpetrators are held responsible.

“Journalists must be allowed to report freely on sensitive topics without fearing physical retribution,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “We urge Brazilian authorities to thoroughly investigate these attacks and guarantee the safety of all media covering public protests.”

Teachers in Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, have been striking on and off since February against changes to the way their pension system works, news reports said. On Wednesday, police cordoned off an area outside the state assembly building in Curitiba to stop teachers from getting close enough to disrupt a vote on the plans, reports said. More than 170 individuals, including police, journalists, and protesters, were injured by water cannons and rubber bullets in the ensuing clash between police and teachers, news reports said.

“The teachers were lined up in front of the assembly, and it was very tense because of the large numbers of police,” Gustavo Vidal, executive director of the Paraná Professional Journalists’ Union, told CPJ. “We didn’t know what was happening, but we all felt the gas. Then the rubber bullets started and everyone just ran.”

At least three journalists–Rafael Passos, a cameraman with the local TV channel Catve, Germano Assad, a reporter with the Brazilian edition of the Spanish daily El País, and freelance writer André Rodrigues–were hit by rubber bullets, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) said in a statement. Henry Milleo, a photographer with the Curitiba-based daily Gazeta do Povo, was injured when a small rocket exploded near him, ABRAJI said.

Bandeirantes TV cameraman Luiz Carlos de Jesus was bitten in the thigh by a police dog at the entrance to the assembly building, according to footage filmed by de Jesus and news reports. The journalist sought treatment at a local hospital.

The state government released a statement in which it blamed the violence on “the radicalism and irrationality of masked people armed with stones, home-made bombs, sticks and iron bars that were used against police.” At least 13 people have been arrested and a wider investigation has been launched, Police Chief Julio Reis said, according to the Paraná state news agency. ABRAJI and the Paraná Professional Journalists’ Union condemned the attacks.

Journalists covering demonstrations in Brazil have been attacked and harassed by police and protesters in recent years, CPJ research shows. In June 2014, CPJ documented attacks against journalists covering protests against the World Cup in São Paulo. In 2013, dozens of journalists reported being attacked or detained while covering protests against public transportation fare hikes, according to news reports. As the 2016 Olympic Games approach, CPJ urges Brazilian authorities to ensure that safeguards are in place so that journalists covering street demonstrations can do so freely and without fear of reprisal.