Rio de Janeiro, May 19, 2020 — Brazilian authorities must promptly and thoroughly investigate the killing of journalist Leonardo Pinheiro, determine if it was related to his reporting, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the afternoon of May 13, unidentified men in a car shot and killed Pinheiro, the owner of A Voz Araruamense, a Facebook page where he posted local reporting, in the city of Araruama, in Rio de Janeiro state, according to news reports.
Pinheiro was interviewing people when he was shot, and was dead by the time police arrived, according to reports.
Pinheiro had also recently declared his intent to run for city council in Araruama with the Patriota party, in opposition to the current municipal government, according to a statement from the party’s state leadership.
“Brazilian authorities must investigate all possible motives for the killing of community journalist Leonardo Pinheiro and determine if it was related to his reporting,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Local reporters are an essential voice for Brazil’s marginalized communities, and those who try to silence them must be brought to justice.”
A local journalist, who knew Pinheiro personally and asked not to be identified for security reasons, told CPJ on the phone that, as far as they knew, Pinheiro had not received any threats recently.
The journalist said that Pinheiro “was killed in front of a lot of people, a lot of people saw the killing, but as this is a small city, everybody is afraid to speak,” and said they were afraid the case will remain unpunished “the same way [as] the two killings of journalists in Maricá about one year ago,” referring to the killings of Robson Giorno and Romário Barros in May and June 2019, respectively.
On A Voz Araruamense, Pinheiro recently published interviews with people in the poorest neighborhoods in Araruama, spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic, and commented on local politics, according to CPJ’s review of the page. In 2019, he also contributed similar social reporting to Fala Araruama, another Facebook page, a representative of that page told CPJ.
Another local journalist, who also preferred not to be identified, told CPJ via phone that, since Pinheiro’s killing, local journalists in Araruama were afraid that they might also be attacked. The journalist said that reporters are now more cautious when reporting in the streets and are reluctant to respond to tips calling for them to report from a specific area.
Both journalists told CPJ that the attack may have been an ambush, as Pinheiro received a call that afternoon asking him to go to the neighborhood where he was then killed.
CPJ called the 118th Civil Police Unit, which is in charge of the investigation, according to news reports, but the person who answered the phone and identified himself as only as “Erick” said that all requests for information should be made to the police press office.
That office emailed CPJ a short statement saying that police have opened an investigation into Pinheiro’s death, a forensic analysis was done at the crime scene, and that the ongoing investigation is confidential.