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Journalist reportedly targeted in bomb attack; bandits obstruct the circulation of newspapers in two more cities

(ABRAJI/IFEX) - Similar to the "Extra" newspaper case in the city of Rio de Janeiro on 28 September 2008, bandits have obstructed the circulation of newspapers containing reports related to electoral candidates in another two Brazilian cities. In addition, a journalist has suffered an attack with a homemade bomb in the northern part of the country.

The distribution of the "Foco Popular" newspaper, which is based in Seropédica, Rio de Janeiro state, was affected on the afternoon of 2 October when three men stole ten thousand copies of the newspaper. "Foco Popular" had reproduced an "Extra" newspaper report about allegations of irregularities committed by a member of the state government and a candidate for local elections, Anabal Barbosa, of the Humanist Solidarity Party (Partido Humanista da Solidariedade, PHS). The elections were held on 5 October.

In an unrelated incident, on the morning of 29 September, Rubens Coutinho, a journalist and editor of the Tudo Rondônia and Jurídico Rondônia websites, suffered an attack with a homemade bomb consisting of gas cylinders, gunpowder with bolts stuck in it and a detonator.

"Suddenly there was a large explosion and the lights in the house went off, but we are not sure what really happened. The bomb was held against the front wall of the house and after the initial noise I saw a flash, a lot of smoke and a lot of dust. It destroyed the windows," Coutinho said. The explosion did not hurt anybody.

According to a note published on the "Tudo Rondônia" website, technicians from the Criminalistics Institute and police officers collected fragments of the bomb. The website reported that a videotape may lead to identification of the criminals.

Coutinho believes the attack is related to political news. According to the journalist, the online newspapers' critical view of the authorities has resulted in more than 30 lawsuits being filed against him by politicians who occupy or have occupied positions in the regional legislature and the Executive. The journalist defends himself by ensuring that the websites have "an independent editorial line, not supporting or being connected to any group or faction."

With respect to the 29 September incident involving "Extra" newspaper, editor Bruno Thys has said that he does not believe that the actions of thugs who tried to obstruct the newspapers' circulation by buying 30,000 copies in Rio de Janeiro threatens the democratic system. In contrast, he considers the thugs' actions to be a "ridiculous and isolated" incident, carried out by "people who think they own the territory." "The media are stronger than that," he said, "We denounced their actions and, most importantly, we informed the public." He went on to say that "Extra" republished the report believed to be the motive for the action against the newspaper on 30 September. According to the newspaper, the purchase of copies of "Extra" to obstruct its circulation is being investigated by the federal police. The newspaper has also reported that federal police officer Robson Dartagnan has said he would gather witness testimonies in order to obtain a description of the thugs involved.

Prosecutor Rogerio Nascimento, who ordered the police investigation into the "Extra" case, explained that if it is proven that an electoral crime took place, the law provides for penalties that can include economic sanctions, ineligibility of the candidates involved, cancellation of electoral registration or even detention for periods of six months to two years. However, the prosecutor admitted that "electoral justice has not been rapid" and "there needs to be an improvement in the capacity to judge these cases." Nascimento pointed out that similar attacks frequently occur against smaller, local circulation newspapers. "Brazil has a history of coercion against the small press and it tends to increase if there is not a strong institutional response. The regional press in Brazil is heroic," said Nascimento.

In yet another separate incident, in the city of Porto Velho, northern Brazil, the "Imprensa Popular" newspaper also had its distribution prevented by eight men who threatened the newspaper's distribution coordinator, João Paulo dos Santos. According to the directors of "Imprensa Popular", the men said they were acting to defend Mayor Roberto Sobrinho of the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores). Sobrinho was a candidate for re-election.

One of "Imprensa Popular"'s directors, Aldrin Willy, said he does not believe the individuals behind the incident will be punished. "We decided to denounce the attack within the press, but did not file a complaint with the police simply because, based on past experience, doing so would have no practical or significant result." Willy believes that the pressure and intimidation suffered by "Imprensa Popular" is related to the newspaper's "combative editorial line with respect to the public administration". He added, "If we don't develop a mentality of effective respect for democracy, we will suffer the effects of authoritarian acts."

For further information on the "Extra" newspaper case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/97378

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