Brazilian community radio presenter José Ilton dos Santos told the Committee to Protect Journalists that to date in 2018 he has faced a failed kidnapping attempt in which the assailant threatened to kill him as well as two other threats, the most recent coming on April 13, 2018. Dos Santos described the incidents to CPJ in a series of phone conversations and WhatsApp messages between May 18 and May 22, 2018. The incidents, which occurred in the city of Morrinhos in northeastern Ceará state, were also documented by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) in a May 16, 2018, statement.
In the April 13 incident, the local secretary for governmental action, Aimee Peixoto Bruno, entered dos Santos’s station, Radio Liberdade FM, and verbally assaulted the journalist after he reported on complaints from residents during a flood in the town of Acaraú. “She had a car of henchmen with her and she said she was going to sue me, that she would have 50,000 people shouting for me to get off the air,” he told CPJ. Peixoto Bruno did not return phone calls from CPJ.
On March 20, 2018, dos Santos received abusive text messages and threatening messages on his phone, and when he aired the messages, he received further threats. Dos Santos said in a police report that he believed the threats came from Morrinhos city councilman Antonio Rodrigues de Souza, one of a group of local officials who in 2017 had filed a request for access to nine months of dos Santos’s radio shows. Calls by CPJ to de Souza’s cell phone and to his city council office in Morrinhos went unanswered and messages were not returned.
Dos Santos told CPJ that on January 24, 2018, an armed man forced him into his own car and pointed a gun at him from the back seat. The man, dos Santos said, told him to drive to the local garbage dump, where he told the journalist they were going to have his “last conversation.” Dos Santos, who refers to the incident as an attempted homicide, said he managed to crash the car before they got to the dump, and then was able to escape. The police initially treated it as a kidnapping attempt. After an investigation, the incident was downgraded to a robbery, they said in a statement, although an inquiry is ongoing.
Dos Santos, host of the Radio Liberdade talk and music show “É do Lascar,” takes calls and hosts citizens who air their grievances and complaints, mostly about local issues in and around Morrinhos. He also airs responses from elected officials, and does some of his own reporting in recorded spots.
Ceará state’s civil police told CPJ on May 22, 2018, that dos Santos had filed separate police reports on each of the three cases. Officials did not investigate the March and April reports because, they said, dos Santos did not provide sufficient evidence to back up the allegations.
In October 2017, four city council members angry over dos Santos’s coverage of them had passed a resolution obliging him to turn over tapes of all the shows that aired between January and October 9, the date of the resolution, according to council documents. The request was eventually withdrawn after a local outcry, dos Santos told CPJ by phone.