Several media outlets and reporters have been the targets of threats or intimidation campaigns while both of the two slain journalists were the victims of execution-style murders five days apart in the northeastern state of Bahia. The circumstances of the murders have yet to be fully clarified.
Weverton Rabelo Fróes, 32, a radio show host and humourist nicknamed Toninho Locutor, was gunned down in Planaltino, a small town 300 km west of the state capital, Salvador, on 4 April. The host of a humorous programme on Radio Antena 1 and the founder and owner of a local amateur radio station, he was killed outside the door to his home by a man who arrived on a motorcycle, opened fire and then drove off.
José Bonfim Pitangueiras, 43, a producer with TV Record, one of Brazil’s leading TV channels, was mown down on a Salvador street on 9 April by shots fired by gunmen in a car that then drove away. Family members said he had not reported receiving any recent threats in connection with his work.
“All possible light must be shed on these murders,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “Local and federal authorities must identify those responsible and bring them to justice, and must do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists. We are very concerned about the many recent reports of press freedom violations and the current poisonous climate for Brazilian journalists.”
There have been several serious incidents involving, in particular, journalists who questioned the way the authorities are handling the Covid-19 pandemic. The premises of Rádio Comunidade, a local community radio station in Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, a small town in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, were forcibly invaded on 6 April by four men identifying themselves as supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro.
The intruders threatened the journalists present, especially show host Júnior Albuquerque. and said they had not appreciated his comments and criticisms of Bolsonaro’s management of the public health crisis. Albuquerque reported the intrusion to the local police.
A few days after the premises of Folha da Região, a local newspaper in Olímpia, a town in the north of São Paulo state, were torched on 17 March, a soldier who is a member of the town’s fire department confessed to having started the fire as an act of “revolt against the press, which is not helping to combat the health crisis.” The police attributed the arson attack to the newspaper’s “defence of scientific and legal measures to address the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Investigative reporting on corruption continues to be dangerous. Diego Santos, the host of the “Verdade no Ar” current affairs programme on Norte Boa Vista, a TV channel affiliated to the SBT media group in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima, found an envelope in his mailbox on 1 April containing two .380 pistol cartridges and a note saying: “For Diego Santos.”
Santos, who regularly denounces political corruption and the activities of Roraima’s various criminal groups on his programme, is convinced that this threatening message was linked to his work. The police say they have not ruled out any motive.
Brazil is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.