Brazilian deputy secretary of Embu das Artes accused by police in attack on journalist

The Brazilian Civil Police have accused Renato Oliveira, deputy secretary of Embu das Artes prefecture, in the São Paulo metropolitan region, of being the author of an attack against journalist Gabriel Barbosa da Silva, which occurred on Dec. 28, 2017.

In addition to Oliveira, then-deputy secretary of Technology and Communication Management of the city, his friend and security guard Lennon Roque was also accused of being author of the crime of serious bodily injury, Folha de S. Paulo reported. The two could be sentenced to 2 to 8 years in prison, but are free while awaiting trial, according to Verbo Online.

Barbosa da Silva, known as Binho, works as a journalist and cartoonist at Verbo. The online news site in the city of 240,000 inhabitants has a critical editorial line toward the administration of mayor Ney Santos, of the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB, for its initials in Portuguese), of which Renato Oliveira was part.

According to what Binho reported and the Civil Police learned, the journalist was on his motorcycle on the Régis Bittencourt highway, in the outskirts of São Paulo, when a car drove him off the road at around 2 a.m. on Dec. 28, Folha reported.

Binho fell off the bike and broke his ankle. According to Binho’s report, the car then returned and a gunman fired three times at the journalist, who was able to protect himself from the shots. According to Agora São Paulo, hours later Binho received a message on Facebook threatening that the next shots would be "in the middle of the face so he would learn to stop being talkative."

The police investigation concluded that Oliveira was behind the wheel and that Roque fired the shots, Folha reported. Police said Oliveira confessed that he was driving the car, claiming that he approached the journalist on the road to talk about a "personal matter." He denies that any shots were fired.

On Feb. 19, the city of Embu das Artes published note of clarification on its website stating that "it regrets what happened." "Due to the repercussion in the media as a possible attack against freedom of the press, even though it is not included in the investigation, and with respect to all press representatives and reiterating its appreciation to the professionals in that field," the city hall said it was removing "the deputy secretary from his post until the closure of the judicial process."

According to a video report from Binho on the site Jornalistas Livres, the message received via Facebook with the threat of a new attack by gunfire "made it clear it was an attack." According to the journalist, his reports and Verbo Online’s coverage of the city administration "bothered the government of Embu das Artes.”

When he was elected in October 2016, Mayor Ney Santos was being investigated by the public prosecutor's office for money laundering, association to drug trafficking and connection with a criminal organization, according to Agência Brasil. In December of that year, an arrest warrant was issued against him and he spent two months in hiding. Santos took office as mayor on Feb. 12, 2017, almost a month and a half after his deputy took over in his place, thanks to a habeas corpus obtained in the Federal Supreme Court.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.