The IAPA (Inter American Press Association) called the capture of an escaped Brazilian prisoner who had been serving time for the 2002 murder in Rio de Janeiro of journalist Tim Lopes a positive move. The defendant, who fled more than three months ago, had taken advantage of a parole system that allows prisoners to come and go from prison once they have served part of their sentence.
Just last week the IAPA roundly criticized this parole system in the conclusions adopted at a forum held in Rio de Janeiro as part of its campaign to end the impunity surrounding crimes against journalists.
During the forum titled “Failures and Shortcomings in the Justice System: How to Prevent Impunity in Crimes Against the Press”, held on May 18 at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), local state attorney, Viviane Tavares Henriques, who headed the investigation into Lopes’ murder that led to the convictions, criticized the parole system saying that it encouraged impunity.
“Years ago a criminological examination was required to reduce sentences; now all that is required is that he (the person convicted) serves part of his sentence and provides a statement of good behavior from the prison director.”
Angelo Ferreira da Silva escaped on February 7, 2010 when prison officials allowed him to leave. Da Silva, one of seven convicted of Lopes’ murder, was sentenced to 15 years but under terms of an a long-standing discretionary parole system was allowed to spend hours a day outside of jail to work and study after he completed one-sixth of his sentence.
Another man found guilty of the murder, Eizeu Felicio de Souza, sentenced to 23 years in prison and granted the same form of parole, has escaped and been on the run since July 2007.
IAPA President, Alejandro Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, declared, “While we welcome the capture of the prisoner we also consider it vital that the authorities review the process of granting paroles, which can, in some cases, lead to impunity – especially in cases such as the Tim Lopes one in which there had already been a previous escape.”
Lopes was a reporter and producer for TV Globo in Rio de Janeiro. With a hidden camera he went into a slum to investigate complaints of sexual exploitation of minors and illicit drug trade links to youth dances. He was kidnapped and tortured and his body hacked to pieces. Lopes’ murder mobilized local journalists and the community who demanded immediate justice.
A similar situation occurred in the case of Ronaldo Santana de Araújo, a radio reporter in Bahia murdered on October 9, 1997, when the only person convicted of the crime, Paulo Sérgio Mendes Lima, was granted a permit to work outside the prison and fled in May 2008.
The IAPA has for years pointed to Brazil as the country where the highest number of journalists’ murderers have been convicted and jailed. Of 101 in the Americas today serving time, 25 of them – now 24 with Da Silva’s escape – are in Brazil.
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, expressed concern that more escapes are possible by two remaining prisoners in the Tim Lopes case – Claudino dos Santos Coelho (a.k.a. Xuxa) and Claudio Orlando do Nascimento (Ratinho) – who are awaiting approval of semi-open parole permits.
In another development in Brazil the IAPA protested the kidnapping and torture of Gilvan Luiz Pereira, owner and publisher of the newspaper Sem Nome (No Name) in the town of Juazeiro do Norte in Ceará state. Pereira, abducted from outside his home by at least three assailants on the night of May 20, stated that several eye-witnesses alerted the police who found him 20 minutes later inside a vehicle, tied up and with body and face wounds. He was taken to a local hospital, where is recuperating satisfactorily.
Pereira, who reported on misconduct by the office of Juazeiro do Norte mayor Manoel de Santana Neto and by local council member Roberto Sampaio, blamed the city officials for the attack. He had warned in his reports that he might be targeted.