Outspoken and controversial political journalist Mário Randolfo Marques Lopes was kidnapped with his girlfriend, Maria Aparecida Guimarães, and ruthlessly executed yesterday at point blank range in Barra do Piraí, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Lopes and his girlfriend were seized Wednesday, reportedly by three men, who held the couple for 22 hours before taking them to the Chacal highway, where they were murdered. Although the police have said they do not have any suspects, nor are they aware of a motive, many believe that Lopes was targeted because of his work. As the editor of Vassouras Online, Lopes was well-known for exposing corruption and criticising politicians, businessmen, the government and various authorities. Lopes was also being sued for defamation and libel by a judge and a police officer.

Lopes had been the victim of an attack just months earlier, when armed men stormed his home and shot him three times in the head and abdomen. After emerging from intensive care, Lopes decided to move to Barra do Piraí because he was afraid of being attacked again.

The executive director of Brazil’s National Association of Journalists, Ricardo Pedreira, told the International Press Institute (IPI) that the association was still waiting for confirmation from the police that Lopes’ professional activities were the motive behind his murder. Pedreira said: “The frequent reason behind violence against journalists, bloggers and radio journalists is organised crime, which tends to happen in smaller towns or even the periphery of cities.” He added: “Impunity is a problem in Brazil.”

IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: “We urge the authorities to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutal killing. We are witnessing a disturbing rise in journalist killings in Brazil. Impunity must not be allowed to thrive.”