Rio de Janeiro, May 20, 2022 – Authorities in Minas Gerais state must thoroughly investigate the attack on journalist Alexandre Megale and hold the perpetrator to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
In the early afternoon of May 16, journalist Alexandre Megale said he was assaulted and hit with rocks by Paulo Luiz de Cantuária, a council member for the city of Ouro Fino in the southeast Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, according to several news reports, a statement from the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), and Megale, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. Megale said the attack injured his shoulder, left hand, and head.
Megale, who founded the YouTube news channel Canal Sul das Gerais in April 2020, told CPJ he believes Cantuária assaulted him in retaliation for the journalist mentioning the council member’s 16-year jail sentence for child rape during a broadcast report about another rape case. Megale had previously reported the court’s decision on Cantuária’s case on September 8, 2021.
“Luckily, journalist Alexandre Megale was not seriously injured, but this was an unacceptable violent assault against a journalist, and Minas Gerais state authorities must ensure a timely and thorough investigation of the incident and bring the responsible party to justice,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Local journalists should be able to report safely without fear of violence or reprisal from public officials.”
Megale told CPJ he went to the Pinhalzinho dos Góes neighborhood in Ouro Fino on May 16 to investigate alleged irregularities in a construction site. He said he was on his motorcycle asking a man for directions when Cantuária arrived in his car.
As Megale tried to ride away from the area, he fell from his motorcycle but kept walking as Cantuária picked up rocks and ran towards him, yelling “get out of here,” and “I’ll teach you.” Megale told CPJ that Cantuária hit him with rocks in his shoulder, head, and hand as he was trying to protect his face, adding that his helmet saved him from major injuries.
According to Megale, after being hit several times he passed out on the ground for a brief period and woke up surrounded by residents who had called an ambulance. He was taken to Santa Casa, a local hospital, where he was examined and treated for his injuries, and left the hospital the same day.
“These assaults cause fear and insecurity, not only to the person who suffered the aggression but to other journalists as well,” Megale told CPJ. In its statement, Abraji said “the journalist was assaulted for exercising his role to inform” and that “an attack of this nature cannot remain unpunished nor be treated as a simple disagreement.”
Megale told CPJ that a military police officer came to the Santa Casa hospital to hear the journalist’s account and register the incident. On Wednesday, May 18, Megale said he went to the Ouro Fino Civil Police station, the unit responsible for investigating the case, to make a statement and on Thursday he was examined at the Medical Forensic Institute in the neighboring city of Pouso Alegre.
The Ouro Fino City Council, in a statement they sent CPJ via email, said they could not locate Cantuária and are looking into the case. CPJ emailed the Minas Gerais state press office for comment but did not receive any replies. CPJ called the Ouro Fino City Council and Paulo Araújo, the Council press officer, told CPJ that Cantuária was not there, that he hadn’t been there the past few days, and that the council member did not have an email.