Brazilian journalist Fernando Martinho (pictured) and Daniel Camargos were recently briefly held by police after they tried to seek comment from the local subsidiary of a British mining company. (Fernando Martinho/Repórter Brasil)

Brazilian police called after journalists seek comment from British mining company

Rio de Janeiro, April 6, 2022 – The Brazil Iron mining company must respect journalists’ right to report on issues of public interest, and should not threaten members of the press with arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On March 28, an employee of the Brazilian subsidiary of Britain’s Brazil Iron in the northeastern city of Piatã called the local police after two journalists with the investigative news organization Repórter Brasil arrived at the company’s office to request comment about the alleged impact of their mining activities on local communities, according to news reports, a statement from Repórter Brasil, and Ana Magalhães, the outlet’s journalism coordinator, who spoke to CPJ on the phone.

Armed officers with the state military police told reporter Daniel Camargos and photographer Fernando Martinho that the company had accused them of trespassing, according to those sources. In the presence of the officers, a Brazil Iron employee asked to see images the journalists had recorded outside the company’s office, which the journalists refused to show.

The officers took the journalists to a police station and released them without charge after about an hour, according to those sources.

“Brazil Iron should refrain from attempting to intimidate journalists who seek to cover the environmental impact of their work, should not threaten reporters or outsource that task to the police,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “It is outrageous that a company would react to a standard request for comment by calling the police. Investigative journalists covering mining in Brazil are keeping the public informed about a vital topic, and should be able to do so without fear of harassment.”

Brazil Iron Ltd. is a privately held British company with an iron and manganese mining subsidiary in Brazil.

“It was a clear attempt to intimidate the press,” Magalhães told CPJ, calling the incident “a gratuitous intimidation because the journalists were there to hear the position of the company. It is very serious that a journalist seeks to hear the other side and is received like that.”

In a statement emailed to CPJ by Brazil Iron press officer Emerson Souza, the company said it called the police “after becoming aware that [the journalists] flew over the area of operation of the Mocó mine with a drone.”

Magalhães told CPJ that the journalists had previously used a drone in the area, but had done that while on public roads and not inside the company’s property.

The company’s statement also said that its employee “did not request the seizure of the [journalists’] equipment, but only asked for the images to be presented, in order to ensure they did not show critical and security zones.”

Magalhães told CPJ that she was unaware of any formal complaint filed by the company. CPJ emailed the Bahia state Civil and Military Police for comment, but did not receive any replies.

Repórter Brasil is an investigative reporting and human rights organization that often reports on environmental issues. In January 2021, the outlet was targeted with cyberattacks, threats, and an attempted break-in, as CPJ reported at the time.