Study reveals that journalists, human rights defenders are killed every four weeks in Brazil

A research from the non-governmental organization Article 19 finds that one journalist or human rights defender is killed every four weeks because of their work. For each killing, there are more than three instances of reporters or human rights advocates suffering attempts on their life, according to the 2012 publication, released on Wednesday, March 14.

The study’s findings were based on the NGO’s investigations into murders, attempted murders, death threats, kidnappings and disappearances in the South American country. In total, 52 journalists and human rights defenders experienced serious freedom of expression violations during 2012 in Brazil, one a week on average.

A majority of the murder or attempted murder victims were journalists, especially bloggers, with 30 reported cases, compared to 17 involving human rights defenders. According to the report, articles published online left journalists much more vulnerable.

“This phenomenon contradicts the status of freedom of expression on the net that many advocate in Brazil claim is absolute. It also demonstrates that the challenges to freedom of expression online are not only virtual and not only relating to legislation,” the group’ website observed.

The states with the highest levels of freedom of expression-driven violence in 2012 were São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul, with eight serious violations of freedom of expression in each. The state of Maranhão followed close behind with seven cases. Rural areas in these states were the most affected. Less than a third of the crimes occurred in large cities.

“What can possibly explain this phenomenon is that the state is regularly implicated in the killings, attempted murders, death threats and kidnappings. Most crimes happened in small towns with less than 100,000 inhabitants – places where there is more closeness between state and population,” the website added.

According to Article 19, the Brazilian government’s actions are just as responsible for the growing problem as its inaction when government employees are directly implicated in the violence or when the state refuses to acknowledge the true nature of the threats, with its efforts often insufficient and inconsistent.

While Brazilian authorities often refuse to see the attacks as a form of censorship, blaming them instead on everyday crime, the report confirmed that in two-thirds of the cases journalists and human rights defenders were killed for something they said.

“In Brazil and other South American countries, journalists, radio workers, editors, human rights defenders, environmental and social activists, rural leaders and bloggers are constantly being killed and intimidated. They are killed or threatened because they have a particular point of view about political matters, because they have an opinion, make accusations and defend their values,” concluded the NGO.

Click here to read the full report from Article 19 (in Portuguese).

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.