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Inter-American Commission admits case of Brazilian journalist murdered in 2001

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed the decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to admit an investigation into the murder of Brazilian journalist Mario de Almeida Coelho Filho that the organization had submitted in 2005.

In another case, the IAPA described as a "negative precedent" the conviction of a news photographer injured during coverage of street protests.

News photographer Alex Silveira was blinded in the left eye after being struck by a rubber bullet fired by a police officer during his coverage for the newspaper Agora of a protest demonstrations held in São Paulo in May 2003. Silveira took the case to court and last week the Public Rights Specialist Tribunal of the Court of Justice overturned the previous ruling awarding him damages and exempted São Paulo state of guilt for the injuries sustained.

The Tribunal attributed responsibility for what had occurred to Silveira and in addition ordered him to pay the court costs and the state lawyer's fees. The ruling said he had "exclusive responsibility for the regrettable episode of which he was victim" for having remained at the site of the disturbances and not withdrawing when the conflict took an aggressive turn with risk of bodily harm.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, offered the IAPA's solidarity with Silveira and called on the authorities to consider overturning a ruling that "is a dangerous precedent for the safety of reporters and coverage of events of public interest."

In other development Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, expressed the IAPA's deep appreciation of "the admission by the IACHR of the case of Mario de Aleida Coelho Filho because it underscores the seriousness of our investigations" and "help to create a new anti-impunity culture that involves hundreds of cases of murdered journalists that continue to go unresolved, in many instances due to the lack of action by authorities."

The IAPA investigated the Coelho Filho case and submitted its findings to the IACHR on October 19, 2005. The IACHR concluded that it was able to look into the merit of the case and that the IAPA's request was admissible. It called on the parties concerned, the IAPA and the Brazilian government, to explore the possibility of reaching an amicable agreement and reported last month that it had approved the report on the case.

Among other elements the IACHR indicated that after more than 12 years since the murder was committed on August 16, 2001 none of the investigations or proceedings undertaken by the government had been capable of solving the crime, identifying those responsible and punishing them.

Coelho Filho had received death threats four months before he was killed. He was shot at five times as he was arriving at his home in Magé, in the Baixada Fluminense neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, where the offices of the newspaper A Verdade are also located. He denounced reports of corruption and mishandling of public funds by members of the Magé city mayor's office.

Since 1997 the IAPA has submitted to the IACHR 29 cases of unpunished murders of journalists in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Paraguay. The IACHR has admitted 15 of these cases, which the IAPA has been following up with the presentation of documents and evidence.

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