Leonardo Pinheiro

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In the afternoon of May 13, unidentified men in a car shot and killed Leonardo 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 residents from the neighborhood of Parati, in Araruama, when two men drove up and one of them, who was hooded, told the journalist to kneel and then executed him, according to news reports and a statement the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police press office sent to CPJ via email in October 2020.

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. 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.

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 AraruamensePinheiro 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.

On October 24, 2020, the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police arrested two men, military police officer Alan Marques de Oliveira and Cleisener Vinícios Brito Guimarães, known as “Keikei,” and identified them as the suspected killers, according to news reports. Police allege that both men were at the scene, and identified Marques de Oliveira as the mastermind, who they said hired Guimarães, the alleged shooter, according to other news reports.

In a statement emailed to CPJ on October 27, 2020, the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police wrote that the killing was tied to Pinheiro’s city council candidacy, and that Marques de Oliveira’s wife was competing against the journalist for that seat.

An attorney representing Marques de Oliveira claimed that his client’s arrest was “totally unnecessary” and that it was based on “hearsay,” according to news reports. CPJ could not find contact information for Brito Guimarães.

In an email to CPJ, the Rio de Janeiro public prosecutor’s office said that state authorities had charged Oliveira and Guimarães for the murder and that the “crime’s motivation was not related to the victim’s work as a journalist.”

The office declined to comment further on the case, saying that the ongoing legal process surrounding the killing was confidential.