CPJ calls on authorities to investigate murder of Brazilian blogger

São Paulo, November 18, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Brazilian authorities to investigate the death of blogger Ítalo Eduardo Diniz Barros, who was shot in northern Brazil Friday. Diniz, who also worked as a press officer for a mayor, often criticized local authorities in his blog, according to colleagues and local news reports. His death comes four days after radio reporter Israel Gonçalves Silva was reported to have been killed in the eastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

“We urge local authorities to thoroughly investigate the murder of Ítalo Eduardo Diniz Barros and determine the motive,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, in New York. “Journalists in Brazil must be able to report the news without fear of reprisal. Instead, deadly violence is silencing critical voices and seriously limiting the ability of Brazilians to engage in vigorous discussion on issues of public interest.”

Diniz was shot dead at about 6:45 p.m. as he walked on one of the main roads in Governador Nunes Freire, a town about 285 miles (460 km) from the Maranhão state capital São Luis, according to local news reports that cited witnesses. Two men on a motorcycle shot Diniz four times before fleeing and Diniz died later in hospital, the reports said. A friend who was with him at the time, identified in news reports as Werbeth Matheus Castro, was hit but not critically injured.

Augusto Barros, the police officer in charge of the investigation, told the local website of national news organization Globo, “It is early to talk about motives but there is speculation that the victim posted on political themes and had angered politicians or other people from the region. Obviously, with him being a blogger who works with information, this line cannot be neglected.”

Two friends and an acquaintance of Diniz, with whom CPJ spoke, said the blogger worked as a press officer for Marcel Curió, the mayor of Governador Nunes Freire, and blogged about scandals and alleged wrongdoing by other local politicians. Diniz’s blog also featured content from other blogs and local publications in Maranhão as well as some original reporting. In addition to his political opinions, the blog consisted of small-town news and local color features.

Luciano Tavares, a friend of Diniz and a local blogger, told CPJ he believed the killing was related to Diniz’s writing. “He was a blogger and criticized the former mayor. That created a lot of anger among [the former mayor’s] supporters,” said Tavares.

Friends of Diniz told CPJ the blogger had received death threats previously, including in the week of his death. A few days before he was shot Diniz had told colleagues on a WhatsApp group for bloggers that he had received a death threat. Tavares, a member of the WhatsApp group, said Diniz reported all threats to local police. When CPJ contacted the police, a spokesman said they were not providing details about the case.

One friend, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, said Diniz had received a death threat as early as 2012. “We were always afraid for him,” the person, who has known Diniz since childhood but was afraid to give a name, told CPJ via telephone. “But he was never afraid of saying what he thought.”

The killing has forced colleagues in the active community of bloggers in the town to fear for their safety, according to one of Diniz’s friends, and a blog post written since his death.

“Maranhão bloggers have spread the story, which has shaken the municipality and left everyone with the hairs on the back of their neck standing up,” Jarivânio Alencar wrote in a blog posted on Saturday. “The crime seems to have been a message to the rest of us.”

Diniz’s killing comes three years after Décio Sá, a political blogger in Maranhão’s state capital, was killed in direct retaliation for his work, according to CPJ research. Sá wrote about politics for the local newspaper O Estado do Maranhão for about 17 years, and was known for his coverage of politicians and corruption on Blog do Décio, which was one of the most widely read blogs in the state, reports said.

At least 16 journalists have been murdered in retaliation for their work since 2011, CPJ research shows. The country ranks 11th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.