By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Campaigning political reporter and blogger Décio Sá was killed last week by a gunman in Maranhão state in Brazil’s north-east. Mr. Sá, who worked for O Estado do Maranhão newspaper for seventeen years, was gunned down in a bar in the state capital São Luís on Monday, April 23rd.
The murder of the journalist, who made his name writing on political corruption and contract killings, brings the number of journalists murdered in Brazil this year to four.
Yesterday, during the May 1st holiday, people in São Luís took to the streets in a march for peace and justice in the slain journalist’s name.
The investigation is already providing results, and two men, thought to be accomplices who helped the gunman escape, have been arrested and detained, and the hunt for the gunman – who fled the scene on a motorbike – is continuing in earnest, with information continuing to come in through a police hotline.
A R$100,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to a conviction, as police are said to be ready to release a description of the gunman.
The police inquiry is currently centering on forensic information from the scene and security camera footage from neighboring properties, but police already believe the murder was the work of a professional hit man.
Reporters Without Borders are reporting that the murder weapon was of type used exclusively by the police, “raising questions about the identity of the killers.”
The killing has been condemned in Brazil, particularly by colleagues in the press and human rights organizations, but shockwaves from the murder have also been felt abroad, with coverage from international broadcasters and newspapers.
Even the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has voiced its concern over the killing, which it said underscores a worrying tendency:
“We condemn [Mr. Sá’s] murder and are concerned at what appears to be a disturbing trend of killing journalists that is damaging the exercise of freedom of expression in Brazil,” said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville.
“We have long been concerned about the need for Brazilian human rights defenders, including journalists, to be able to conduct their work without fear of intimidation or worse,” Mr. Colville told a news conference in Geneva, adding that he hoped legislation introduced in Brazil in 2011 giving protection to media professionals, such as investigative reporters, would be implemented in future.
The Inter-American Press Association has also appealed to the Brazilian authorities to effect a swift and thorough investigation, saying “crimes against journalists remain one of the main problems facing the press [in the region].”
The case is the fourth murder of a high-profile campaign journalist to take place in Brazil so far in 2012, prompting Brazilian branch of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to make the point that such murders are rarely fully investigated or punished.
According to the CPJ, seventy percent of cases involving murdered journalists have gone unpunished over the past twenty years. Of twenty such cases, fourteen remain unsolved with no perpetrator or insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
These do not include three of the four murders, including that of Mr. Sá, which have so far occurred in 2012. Only that of Laécio de Souza, who worked for Bahia’s Sucesso FM, has been solved this year.
Ranking countries by impunity of crimes against media professionals, the committee put Brazil in eleventh place. Iraq and Somalia take the top two spots, with Mexico in eighth place.