A Brazilian reporter who had been investigating a child prostitution ring was found decapitated in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais on Monday.

The body of Evany José Metzker, 67, was discovered in the town of Padre Paraíso five days after he went missing. According to news reports, the journalist’s body showed signs of physical violence and was found with his hands tied, while his head was discovered in a ditch 100 meters away. Several personal belongings, including various documents, his wallet and wedding ring were found nearby.

State police officials have reportedly established Metzker’s work as a possible motive for his murder, but have not ruled out other motives. Metzker was a well-known investigative journalist in the area and ran the blog “Coruja do Vale” (engl.: Owl of the Valley), which regularly reported cases of corruption and was often viewed as critical of the government and police. According to the local newspaper Estado de Minas, Metzker had recently been investigating a child prostitution gang that was allegedly active in Catuji, Minas Gerais.

Metzker’s widow, Hilma Chaves Silva Borges, told Brazilian media that she had “no doubt” her husband was killed because of his journalistic work. “He was investigating everything, dirty politics, child prostitution, cargo theft”, she said, adding: “He clearly must have found the sore spot of some powerful person.”

“We strongly condemn the brutal murder of Evany José Metzker and stress that Brazilian authorities have the responsibility to investigate all possible motives behind this crime and bring all persons involved to justice,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “Brazil must send a strong signal that attacks on journalists will not be tolerated and must redouble efforts to combat the prevailing culture of impunity.”

The Minas Gerais Journalists’ Union (Sindicato dos Jornalistas de Minas Gerais) was quoted in reports as denouncing the killing as an “attack against freedom of expression and the right to information”.

According to IPI’s Death Watch, at least 22 journalists have been killed in Brazil in the last 10 years for reasons believed to be related to their work. The corresponding impunity in many of these cases has left journalists vulnerable to a cycle of intimidation, threats, and violence.

Metzker was reportedly buried in Medina, in the northeast of Minais Gerais, where he lived with his family.