The IPI global network calls on Brazilian authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who went missing last week from one of the most remote corners of the Amazon.
Phillips and Pereira were last seen on June 5 in the Javari Valley in western Brazil, close to the borders of Peru and Colombia, just days after receiving threats, according to reports.
Brazilian authorities told Philip’s family that two bodies had been found tied to a tree in the rainforest, according to news outlet G1. The local indigenous association UNIVAJA, which organized search efforts, and federal police, however, deny reports that bodies have been found and identified.
On Sunday, Brazilian Federal Police said search teams found “biological materials” and the belongings of the two men, including their boots, Phillip’s backpack and Pereira’s health insurance card in a creek off the river where they went missing.
Phillips is a freelance journalist who contributes to The Guardian, Financial Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Pereira is a former official with Brazil’s federal Indigenous agency, FUNAI. The two were traveling to the nearby city of Atalaia do Norte where Philips was conducting research for a book, but they never arrived, according to reports.
On Monday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he believes ‘something wicked’ was done to Phillips and Pereira, and it is unlikely they will be found alive.
In a news conference, police and military officers said they arrested one person, a local fisherman, and questioned five others.
Pereira worked for FUNAI overseeing and protecting indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon—which has the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world—and has been the target of threats from illegal loggers and miners invading the region.
Indigenous rights groups, politicians and journalists have accused the Brazilian government of acting too slowly and called for authorities to devote more resources to the investigation. Bolsonaro has also been blamed for the surge of illegal loggers and miners invading indigenous and the destruction of indigenous reserves in the Amazon.
“We are gravely concerned about the whereabouts and fate of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira as various disturbing reports continue to emerge about their disappearance. Our thoughts are with their families and colleagues as the search for the two men continues”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We urge Brazilian officials to coordinate their search efforts and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident. The Brazilian government must ensure the safety of journalists, who have the right to report and do their work safely and freely.”
Since Bolsonaro’s election in 2018, Brazil has experienced an increase of threats to press freedom. Bolsonaro has attacked the media through threats, verbal aggression, intimidation and discreditation. His government has been blamed for an escalation of violence and threats against the press in Brazil.