Journalist José Airton Alves Júnior was recently attacked after reporting on local political figures in Itarema, Brazil. (Photo: José Airton Alves Júnior)

Brazilian journalist assaulted and threatened over political coverage

At about 2:30 p.m. on October 21, 2020, two men entered the home of journalist José Airton Alves Júnior in the town of Itarema, in Brazil’s northeast Ceará state, punched and kicked him several times, and threatened him, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Alves Júnior told CPJ he was at home with his wife and three daughters when the two men entered the house and found him in his bedroom.

“They punched and kicked me. They tried to drag me out of the house. Then my wife tried to stop them, and they pushed her. One of my daughters went out into the street screaming and the neighbors came by to see what was going on,” he told CPJ, saying that the men fled after the neighbors arrived.

Alves Júnior has covered local politics and general news at a variety of radio broadcasters since 1992, most recently at local station Radio Liberdade, which he left in June, he told CPJ. He runs the online news portal “Portal Santana / Itarema,” which covers the same issues, and is now the main outlet for his reporting, he said.

Alves Júnior told CPJ that he could identify the two men who assaulted him: José Edson Rios Filho, the husband of a local official, and Dion Veras, an acquaintance of the official’s family.  

Rios Filho accused Alves Júnior of “talking about my wife on the internet” and punched him in the face, head, and back, the journalist told CPJ. Both men left after the journalist’s neighbors arrived, and Rios Filho threatened him saying, “the next time I’ll come to kill you.”

Alves Júnior told CPJ that he received bruises from the attack and went to a local hospital for an examination, but was not seriously injured.

Alves Júnior said he has been vocal about the potential ethical concerns involving Rios Filho’s wife, Rosa Monteiro, who is both a city official and the sister of Itarema’s mayor, and believed the attack was a response to a post he published earlier that day on Portal Santana / Itarema highlighting those connections.

The Public Security Secretary of Ceará sent CPJ an email on October 27 stating that police had concluded their investigation in the case and passed it to the local judiciary.

In a statement to police, Veras said that Rios Filho asked Alves Júnior about his reporting and shoved him, but denied that they made any more severe attacks or threats, according to police documents that CPJ reviewed. 

On November 11, the Ceará Public Prosecutor’s Office sent CPJ an email stating that it had received the police inquiry and requested further investigation into the case.

CPJ emailed the Itarema city administration seeking comment from Mayor Elizeu Monteiro, secretary Rosa Monteiro, and José Edson Rios Filho, but did not receive any response. CPJ could not locate contact information for Veras.