Abraji’s Tim Lopes Program investigates second case as part of campaign against impunity in Brazilian journalists' deaths

People who knew Brazilian Jairo Sousa are still in shock over the radio journalist’s death.

They say he was a combative personality and “denounced suspicious bidding, overbilling in purchases in [city's] departments. He was critical of the current city hall, some city councilors and even businessmen,” Angelina Nunes, coordinator of the Tim Lopes Program for the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), told the Knight Center.

Nunes is part of the Abraji team that arrived in Bragança, in the northern state of Pará, on July 5 to begin the Program’s second ever investigation into the death of a press worker.

The police investigation into the Sousa murder is also underway, according to Nunes, and is being done under secrecy. "The evidence is strong and points to the most likely hypothesis of his death as a consequence of his work in radio," she added.

Sousa was killed on June 21 with two shots to the backupon arriving at Rádio Pérola FM, where he worked.

According to what local police said after the murder, Sousa was shot by a man riding on the back of a motorcycle. The motive and those responsible have not yet been identified.

His relatives told the newspaper Online Castanhal that the radio journalist received threats via telephone before his death. A colleague told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Sousa, who reported on corruption, murder and drug trafficking, sometimes wore a bulletproof vest.

This is the second case of the Tim Lopes Program for the Protection of Journalists since Abraji launched the initiative in September 2017 to investigate murders, assassination attempts and abductions of media professionals and to continue the reports interrupted by the killers.

"We are in the process of collecting statements and material/documents," Nunes said.

Updates on the Program’s first case

The first case investigated by Abraji was the murder of another radio journalist, Jefferson Pureza, who was shot dead inside his house on January 17 in Edealina, in the state of Goiás, in central-western Brazil.

Angelina Nunes and Rafael Oliveira, an intern at Abraji, went twice to Edealina, a town with 3,700 inhabitants, to investigate Pureza’s death. The first visit was in January, two weeks after the assassination, and the second in April, after the arrest and accusation of councillor José Eduardo Alves da Silva, of the Party of the Republic (PR, for its initials in Portuguese), and two other men and three teenage suspects in murder.

After being arrested, Alves da Silva said he had ordered Pureza’s murder twice, in January and December 2017, but that on two occasions he gave up the plan. He denies ordering the crime that occurred in January 2018.

"Our mission was to arrive at the site and collect documents, sources, images, as much as possible, and make a preliminary check to determine if that death really had a connection with his work," Nunes explained.

"We were interviewing the people and realized that in the city there was what in Rio de Janeiro we call the 'law of silence.’ Everyone knows what happened, who killed, who had them killed, but nobody wants to talk, nobody wants to expose themselves, for obvious reasons," she said.

The background to the murder of Pureza, she said, was a fight between political groups in the city. The radio journalist belonged to a group opposed to that of Alves da Silva and former mayor João Batista "Boiadeiro," of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB).

Among the complaints about the public administration that the professional made on his radio program, two concerned an investigation underway at the local Public Prosecutor's Office and involved the former mayor, Nunes said. Her sources provided nearly 500 pages of documents pertaining to Pureza's allegations.

On the second visit, the Abraji team had access to another 400 pages of the police investigation, which indicated political motivation and "passion" for the murder, due to an alleged relationship between Pureza and a former wife of Alves da Silva, according to Nunes.

Nunes affirms, however, that the evidence that she gathered in her investigation indicates that the radio journalist was killed because of his professional work. She recalls that a year before his murder, Pureza reported receiving death threats and pointed to the councilor and former mayor, and that throughout 2017 the headquarters of radio station Beira Rio FM, which transmitted Pureza’s program, suffered two fires.

"In the last [fire], they lost the transmitters, so he broadcast through Facebook. They were already getting the new equipment and [Pureza] warned everyone, 'Look, we’re coming back with everything,' 'No one will shut me up.' People knew he was about to return with the radio station, it was all set for him to return by the end of January. He was killed on the 17th. It was a death foretold," Nunes said.

The suspects are expected to be tried in the coming months, and the Abraji team is following the case.

Partnership with journalistic media

In addition to the investigation of murders of communicators, the Tim Lopes Program foresees the formation of teams of professionals from various journalistic media outlets to investigate complaints made by the press workers before their deaths. The idea is for these professionals –reporters, photographers, cameramen– to be sent to the cities of the murdered press workers to produce reports and further publicize the irregularities they had reported.

The inspiration is the Arizona Project, of the U.S. organization Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). In response to a 1976 car bomb blast that killed reporter Don Bolles in Phoenix, Arizona, his colleagues traveled to the city to complete his investigative work.

o date, five media outlets have signed a partnership with the Tim Lopes Program: Veja, Poder 360, Agência Pública, Ponte and Projeto Colabora. The Tim Lopes Program team is in contact with other outlets and expects to close new partnerships soon.

"The big problem is to raise awareness among outlets to embrace this cause," Nunes said. "It's a bigger cause. We are talking about the exercise of the profession, of freedom of expression and information. It's not about the rush to break the story, the news you have to publish hurriedly. These are investigations that take months," she explained.

For this reason, the Tim Lopes Program foresees that the "borrowing" of media professionals should not exceed two weeks, so as not to disturb the routine of their newsrooms. During this period, the Program will cover all expenses of the journalist's work, as well as guarantee life insurance and health insurance.

The material compiled by the reporters will be edited by the Tim Lopes Program and, once ready, will be published on the initiative's website and made available for free publication in any media.

"The good news is that the owners of the outlets, editors, directors, are beginning to be sensitized to this. We know it is a pioneering project, which needs to mature, but we can not wait for it to mature to put it out there. We are already running behind doing this work," Nunes said.