Gunmen open fire on house of journalist covering land disputes in Brazil

São Paulo, November 13, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in Brazil to thoroughly investigate an attack on the house of a local journalist in the state of Paraná. João Muniz told CPJ his house was shot at on Thursday and that he believes his reporting on land disputes was the reason for the attack.

“We condemn the use of violence to intimidate João Muniz and we urge Brazilian authorities to investigate the attack and ensure the safety of Muniz and his family,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, in New York. “Press freedom is under threat in Brazil as local journalists increasingly face intimidation, harassment, and murder.”

Assailants in a car fired about 10 rounds of ammunition at the journalist’s house at 1:20 a.m., according to a statement sent to CPJ from the daily Correio do Povo do Paraná, the paper for which Muniz writes. Muniz was upstairs with his wife and 10-year old son at the time of the attack, but no one was harmed, the statement added.

“It’s very difficult to go through all this knowing that we are just trying to do our job,” Muniz said in the statement sent to CPJ. “But I am confident that the police will clear this up and discover the masterminds of what could have been a massacre.”

Muniz lives in Quedas do Iguaçu, about 40 miles from Laranjeiras do Sul, a city in the southern state of Paraná. The region is home to land conflicts involving members of the Landless Workers Movement, one of Brazil’s largest agrarian reform movements, whose tactics include the occupation of land they claim is unproductive.

Two plots of land owned by lumber company Araupel in and near Quedas do Iguaçu have been occupied by members of the group. The company won a court battle to remove them, but the Landless Workers Movement refused to leave, Muniz, who says he has covered the conflict for more than a year, told CPJ.

Muniz said he is a member of a commission made up of residents, representatives from the state government, and law enforcement that is pressuring authorities to enforce the court order and forcibly remove members of the Landless Workers Movement from the land. “As a journalist on a commission you are visible,” Muniz told CPJ. “They see me as defending the interests of the company.”

Araupel is a regular advertiser in the Correio do Povo do Paraná, Muniz added.

Individuals affiliated with the Landless Workers Movement have verbally threatened Muniz and other reporters for their coverage, the walls of the paper’s building have been vandalized, and “strange objects such as sickles” have been left at its door, according to Muniz and the statement released by his paper. Muniz said these acts were reported to police.

Muniz told CPJ he is currently facing a civil defamation case brought by members of the group against him for his reporting. A hearing took place this week, he said. Muniz and Suelem Camilo, head of the newsroom at the paper, said that people, who Muniz did not want to identify by name, had come to the paper’s offices and threatened the reporter in the past few months.

The Landless Workers Movement did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Pedro Fernandes de Oliveira, the police chief investigating the shooting, told CPJ he has “no doubts” someone from the Landless Workers Movement or someone linked to the group was responsible. He said police were doing ballistics tests on the bullets retrieved from the reporter’s home.

“Some individuals, and let me be clear, not everyone and not the leaders, are angry at some of the things that Muniz had written and there have been threats, both direct and indirect,” he added. “This one was very direct.”

Thousands of landless workers have been killed in clashes with police and landowners in the past few decades and in some cases they have retaliated with violence and threats, according to reports.

A statement from Union of Paraná Newspaper and Magazine Owners, published by Gazeta do Povo in its report on the attack, described the shooting as “a clear attempt to intimidate and halt the press’s work.”

At least four journalists have been murdered in Brazil this year in direct retaliation for their work, CPJ research shows.