27 November 2015 - The fatal shooting of two political bloggers in Maranhão state, north-eastern Brazil, in just over a week signals an alarming rise in fatal violence against writers that must be checked, said the global writers’ association PEN International today. Their deaths bring the number of political bloggers killed in Brazil this year to three.
Ítalo Eduardo Diniz Barros was shot dead in the city of Governador Nunes Freire in Maranhão state on 13 November 2015, while Orislândio Timóteo Araujo was killed eight days later in Buriticupu, also in Maranhão, on 21 November. Both were gunned down by unidentified men on motorcycles in what appear to be targeted – and likely contract – killings after criticising local authorities on their blogs.
‘PEN is alarmed by this new wave of killings of political bloggers in Brazil,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘This cycle of violence must be broken. The authorities must urgently bring to justice those responsible, including the masterminds.
‘We understand that ongoing police investigations into these most recent killings are taking the victims’ writing into consideration as a possible motive for the crimes. We hope that this is indeed the case so that any link to freedom of expression can be established. However, even if writing is provocative, the response to it should never be violent, and those responsible for the murders must be identified and prosecuted,’ added Tripathi.
According to reports, on 13 November Ítalo Eduardo Diniz Barros (30) was shot four times by two unidentified men on a motorbike who fled the scene; the blogger died before he could be admitted to hospital. A friend who was with him at the time of the attack was also shot and injured.
Diniz worked as a press officer for Marcel Curió, the mayor of Governador Nunes Freire, and blogged about scandals and alleged wrongdoing by other local politicians. His blog featured content from other blogs and local publications in Maranhão as well as some original reporting.
A few days before the blogger was shot he told colleagues on a WhatsApp group for bloggers that he had received a death threat and that he previously received others in relation to his work.
The police officer in charge of the investigation into Diniz’ killing has reportedly indicated that Diniz’ profession and blogs would be taken into account as possible motivations.
Just over a week after Diniz’ death, on 21 November, political blogger Orislândio Timóteo Araujo (37) – popularly known as Roberto Lano – was killed in similar circumstances in Buriticupu, also in Maranhão state (some 250 km from Governador Nunes Freire). Araujo was reportedly on a motorcycle with his wife on his way to the city centre when he was shot in the head by an unknown assailant who fled the scene on a motorcycle.
Also a radio host and DJ, Araujo was also known for his work on political campaigns in the state and as an event promoter in the region. In his last blog post, on 18 November, he criticised the mayor of Buriticupu for building a bridge in the middle of nowhere.
The authorities have launched an investigation into what they believe was a contract killing, reportedly citing Araujo’s journalistic activities as one possible line of inquiry. No arrests are known to have been made as yet.
This is not the first time that political bloggers have been killed in Maranhão state. On 23 April 2012, blogger and journalist Decio Sá was killed, in direct retaliation for his work according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Sá wrote about politics and crime for the local newspaper O Estado do Maranhão for many years and for Blog do Décio, which was reportedly one of the most widely read blogs in the state. More than three years later Sá’s murder remains unsolved.
The latest killings came days after that of radio reporter Israel Gonçalves Silva in Pernambuco state, also in the north east of the country, on 10 November 2015. Gonçalves was reportedly often critical of local politicians and authorities in his show and had also previously received death threats.
Earlier this year, blogger Evany José Metzker was brutally murdered in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais; his decapitated body was found on 18 May 2015, five days after he went missing. Metzker wrote a blog called, ‘Coruja do Vale’ (The Owl of the Valley), where he posted articles on politics and corruption. He is thought to have travelled to the area three months prior to his death to investigate allegations of drug trafficking and child prostitution in the town.
In all, 22 bloggers and print journalists have been murdered in Brazil since 2004, according to PEN’s records, the majority of which remain fully or partially unsolved. PEN calls on the Brazilian authorities to carry out prompt and thorough investigations into all unsolved killings of bloggers and journalists, and to provide writers and journalists with effective protection.
According to the PEN International Case List, in 18 out of 20 (90 per cent) of murders of journalists and bloggers in Brazil between 2004 and 2014, the writer is reported to have investigated alleged political or police corruption or to have opposed local officials in their journalism or political activities.
For further information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN. Tel: +44 (0) 2074050338, Fax: +44(0) 2074050339. Email: Tamsin.Mitchell@pen-international.org