Someone set veteran Brazilian political reporter Rodrigo Lima’s car on fire outside his office at the daily newspaper Diario da Região on March 3, 2017, according to the journalist, witnesses, and video of the incident. The reporter, who has worked at the newspaper for 17 years, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he believed the arson attack was meant as retaliation for his reporting and as a warning.
“It was an attack on the newspaper,” Lima told CPJ by telephone. “I have no idea who was behind it; it’s very difficult to make any declaration about that. But I do think it was linked to my professional activities. I write a lot about politics and recently wrote stories about vote-buying in municipal elections and irregularities in the disbursement of funds for the auxilio atleta (a program that funds promising young athletes).”
Lima spoke by phone from São José do Rio Preto, a city of around 375,000 people roughly 275 miles northwest of São Paulo. He said he had received anonymous, threatening telephone calls and letters several times in the past.
Such threats have also been sent to other journalists at the paper, and to other reporters in the region, Daniele Jammal, the head of the Union of Northwestern Paulista Journalists, the regional professional association, told CPJ.
An employee of the paper said she saw a man emerge from a silver vehicle and pour gasoline over Lima’s car before setting it on fire, jumping back in his own vehicle, and fleeing the scene, the newspaper reported.
A video published on the newspaper’s web site showed the car going up in flames at 6:15 p.m. local time. The video shows two newspaper employees dousing the fire with extinguishers before firefighters arrived to put out the blaze and investigate.
Lima said he gave a statement to state police and added that Brazil’s Federal Police were also involved in the investigation because of the possible links to his stories on vote-buying, which is a federal crime.
Officers told Lima they were reviewing security camera footage of the area but that no arrests have been made.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The text has been updated to correct the date of the arson attack.