Journalist Safety in Brazil: A Tactical Analysis, 1992-2012

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Journalist Safety in Brazil

A Tactical Analysis in Advance of Possible Training

June 2012


Global Journalist Security researches violent attacks against the press in specific nations as a courtesy provided to potential clients prior to training. We use the research to develop realistic training scenarios. However, our training is never based on any single incident. Instead we develop composite scenarios based on the combined details and trends of many relevant cases.

Of course we would welcome feedback of any kind. We always ask for and then incorporate suggestions from newsrooms, journalists and others before developing any training plan.


Table of Contents

Executive Summary………………..………………………………………….3

The Decade 1992 – 2001……………………………………………………….4

The Decade 2002 – 2012…………….………………………………………….5

Closer Examination of Recent Years 2010 – 2012……….………….…………6

Case Studies……………………………………………………………………8

1. Francisco Gomes de Medeiros………………………………………8

2. Luciano Leitão Pedrosa………………….………………………….9

3. Edinaldo Filgueira…………………………………………………11

4. Gelson Domingos da Silva…………………………………………12

5. Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes…………………………………..13

6. Décio Sá……………………………………………………………14

Sources Cited…………………………………………………………………15



Executive Summary


Brazil is the world’s fourth largest democracy and fifth most populous nation. The emerging South American nation further enjoys the second greatest per capita income among the four emerging BRIC nations. Yet freedom of the press in Brazil is limited. Corrupt and criminal actors commit violent attacks –especially murders– against journalists with virtual impunity.

At least 21 journalists have been killed on the job in Brazil over the past two decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Almost all of these journalists were murdered. (Nine more journalists were murdered over the same period; however, the motive behind the slaying of each these journalists remains unknown.) Moreover, the past 18 months have been the bloodiest time for Brazilian journalists in well over a decade. Murders of journalists in Brazil appear to be on the rise –even as the nation’s overall murder rate has declined.

Most of the murdered journalists were local reporters who had investigated local corruption or abuses of power. A handful of the murdered media owners and journalists were also active local political figures. Evidence indicates that local or national criminal groups, often working in collusion in with corrupt officials, have been behind most of the journalist murders.

Professional killers carried out more than half of the assassinations. Most murdered journalists were shot dead near either their homes or offices, or as they were commuting between them. About one-third were threatened before they were slain. Two were abducted and held for different lengths of time before being summarily executed.

One journalist was not murdered. A TV cameraman, he was embedded with special police forces as they were carrying out operations in a poor, urban favela when he was shot and killed in the crossfire.

How does violence against the press in Brazil compare to other nations? More Brazilian journalists have been killed than the total number of reporters killed covering conflicts in nations from Bosnia (where 19 were killed) to Angola (where 10 were killed). Brazil has been on CPJ’s Impunity Index for Unsolved Journalist Murders over the past four years in a row, even though suspects have been charged and prosecuted in several cases.

Despite at least some progress, perpetrators continue to murder journalists with impunity.

“Brazil is leading the region in journalist murders this year, a terrible record compounded by a pattern of impunity,” said CPJ Latin America director Carlos Lauría in April 2012, after another journalist, veteran newspaper reporter and blogger Décio Sá, was murdered in a contract-style assassination, shot six times in the bathroom of a bar by a gunman who fled on the back of a waiting motorcycle. (The motive behind Sá’s murder also remains under investigation.)


The Decade 1992 – 2001


Nine journalists were murdered in Brazil in direct reprisal for their reporting from 1992 through 2001, according to CPJ figures. (Two more journalists were murdered for reasons that to date remain unknown.) Among the nine who were clearly murdered over their work, six worked in print, two worked in radio and one in television. Many worked for local media outlets serving small cities or other communities in rural areas.


Most had reported on alleged local corruption, organized crime and corresponding acts of violence. Newsroom managers or other senior personnel were targeted in nearly every case. Four of the murdered journalists were media owners. One was a publisher and editor. Another was an editor. Two more were TV and radio hosts, respectively.


Contract-style assassinations were common. None of the attacks involved kidnappings or abductions. At least three of the murdered journalists were threatened before they were murdered.


  • More than half, or five out of the nine murders involved planned attacks by unidentified gunmen who shot and killed each individual journalist at close range.
  • As seen in the following decade, gunmen frequently used handheld small arms and motorcycles to carry out their attacks.
  • Journalists were targeted equally between their homes and their commutes during this period, with three reporters killed in each setting. Additionally, three reporters were killed in their office, at a local business, and at a party, respectively.
  • One journalist was murdered when he arrived home by assailants who waited for him.
  • Another journalist was shot dead in front of his house by hooded men who fled on a motorcycle.
  • Another was killed in his car while he waited at a stoplight.
  • Two other journalists were murdered in their vehicles as they were driving between their homes and work; in each case the assailants followed them before closing in and opening fire.



The Decade 2002 – 2012



At least twelve journalists were killed in relation to their work in Brazil from 2002 to 2012. Eleven out of the 12 were murdered. Seven more journalists were murdered during the same period in crimes for which the motive remains unknown –including two recent, contract-style assassinations.


Among the 12 journalists clearly murdered in reprisal for their reporting, all 12 of them were investigating local corruption or criminal activities or both when they were murdered. More broadcast journalists were among those murdered than in the previous decade; eight out of the 12 assassinated journalists worked in radio or TV. One was an online journalist who was also abducted and tortured before he was murdered. Four out of the 12 murdered journalists were also involved in local politics or trade unions. The murdered journalists lived and worked in both small towns and large cities across the nation.


  • No less than two-thirds, or eight out of the 12 murdered journalists, were slain by professional assassins in planned attacks.
  • Two more murdered journalists were abducted –one from a favela in Rio de Janeiro and the other from his home in the same state—before they were each tortured as well as summarily executed in separate cases more than a decade apart.
  • One, a photographer, was killed spontaneously by three men brandishing handguns who were committing a string of robberies.
  • Another, a TV cameraman, was killed while embedded with police during an operation in a poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.


Another trend was the increasing number of reporters killed in brazen daytime attacks, including one incident where gunmen burst into a recording studio mid-session, and another where a journalist was murdered while inspecting construction on a new office.


However, the majority of instances still involved gunmen attacking and ambushing journalists at their homes, during their commute, and in public places, and escaping via motorcycle.

  •  Attacks on journalists in their homes or offices were most common during this period from 2002 through 2012, with four of the slain journalists murdered in or near their homes and three murdered in or near their offices.
  • As seen in the decade before from 1992 through 2001, assailants again favored handguns as murder weapons and motorcycles as the means of escape. Out of the 12 journalists killed in the 2002-2012 period, seven were killed by shots fired from assassins who escaped via motorcycle.
  • Public places were also common locations for murders during this period, despite the presence of witnesses. Four of the 12 journalists were killed in public places outside of their home, with two reporters being murdered in a bar and restaurant, respectively.




Closer Examination of Recent Years 2010 – 2012



In the period from 2010 to 2012, there were ten journalists killed in Brazil, five of whom were plausibly murdered in retaliation for their work as journalists. Another journalist was killed covering a police raid in a Rio de Janeiro favela. These six journalists are featured in capsule case studies below.


We have included the case of Décio Sá here even though the motive in his case is still under investigation by groups including CPJ; we believe that the circumstances of the case along with the tactical details of the murder seem to fit a pattern that may be instructive for training.


Half of these murders took place in the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte. An additional murder in the northeastern state of Maranhão. The remaining two murders took place in Rio de Janeiro state. In the three cases in which suspects have been arrested, criminal groups and local government officials have been equally implicated.


The majority of these deaths follow a common script involving multiple assailants, motorcycles, and an ambush-style attack. In four of the six cases, a small group of attackers on motorbikes would kill their target in a predictable location- one outside of the journalist’s home, one on the journalist’s commute, one at a local restaurant, and one at a local bar.


  • Out of these four cases, three were killed with small arms, specifically .38 caliber revolvers, as the murder weapon.
  • The number of assassins per killing ranged from one to three, usually with one shooter and one getaway driver.
  • Only one case features a description of an assassin attempting to disguise himself. In the other remaining four murder cases, it appears the killers relied instead on unexpected attacks and quick escapes.


Notably, every death reported here, with the exception of two that occurred in private homes, has witnesses, indicating that public visibility was not a deterrent for attacks. As tragically demonstrated by the Luciano Pedrosa and Décio Sá cases, attacks can occur even in crowded establishments- and neither the presence of witnesses nor electronic surveillance will deter attackers or effectively assist in a subsequent investigation.


A critical observation from these case studies was the high likelihood that many of the targets were followed for a period of time before their deaths to allow assailants to understand their daily routine and schedule. The fact that this “casing” very likely took place before journalists were killed indicates that added awareness and vigilance could have been mitigated some risk, although this not applicable nor feasible in all situations.


  • Police reports indicate that three of the reporters killed during this period were directly targeted due to their reporting, and two had their murders linked to contract assassins.
  • The public profile of at least two of the murdered journalists likely contributed to their deaths, according to published reports.


Location was a primary factor, with the morning or evening commute the most frequent time of attack. The regularity of a commuting schedule can put journalists at risk when attackers can easily determine when and where someone will be.


In this period, only one of the killed reporters was not murdered. Gelson Domingos da Silva was mortally wounded while filming a special police raid in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Though these direct combat situations are rarer in Brazil than in other countries, the police raid bore close resemblances to combat and conflict elsewhere in the globe. One major point of improvement that can be extrapolated from this example is the need for more effective body armor to protect journalists. Preliminary reports on this case indicate that armor-piercing rounds were used during the conflict, which the journalist’s bulletproof vest could not withstand.


Though da Silva was the first Brazilian journalist to die in a crossfire attack while on assignment in Brazil in many years, reporters who accompany police operations are nonetheless at risk. In 2010, Reuters photographer Paulo Whitaker was shot in the shoulder while covering a police operation in a Rio favela, and in March 2012, a TV reporter covering police response to a car accident was attacked by one of the suspects. In both incidents, the reporters suffered minor wounds but recovered fully.


Thus far in 2012, three journalists have been killed in Brazil, two of which we have included in our summary below as having likely been murdered for their work.









Case Studies (2010-2012)



To help build composite scenarios for training, the journalists killed as a result of their work in the 2010-2012 period as well as the 2012 murder of Décio Sá are featured as case studies below.


Each case was individually investigated through an operational lens focusing on tactical details drawn from sources including reports by press freedom groups, news articles and blog entries; the sources and corresponding links follow the tactical summaries.




  1. Francisco Gomes de Medeiros



Photo: Proyecto Impunidad


Date: October 18, 2010




Francisco Gomes de Medeiros worked as a morning talk show host for his daily program Radio Caicó, focusing on crime and corruption, according to CPJ research. He was murdered by a drug trafficker, likely in response for his reporting.


Tactical Information:


According to fellow journalist Sidney Silva, Gomes ran his morning radio program until roughly 14:00, where he returned home and spent most of the afternoon speaking with friends and passerby nearby his house.


Between 20:30 and 21:09, João Francisco dos Santos, aka “Dão”, drove by on a black motorcycle, stopped, and shot Gomes 5 times with a .38 revolver before driving off, according to local newspaper Tribuna do Norte.  “Dão” wore a grey helmet that obscured his face and was disguised in a jacket used by taxi motorcyclists in the region. Gomes survived the initial confrontation and was rushed to the Caicó Regional Hospital, where he died from his wounds a few hours later.




Gomes lived in Caicó, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the easternmost part of the country. Gomes lived in the southern Paraíba district of the city. A satellite map of the area can be seen here.




Subsequent reports by Tribuna do Norte show that Dão was a previously arrested drug trafficker whom Gomes had reported on in 2007. However, they also claim this was a hired hit rather than an act of revenge. A second man, Lailson Lopes, was arrested and charged with masterminding the murder. Lopes had previous disagreements with Gomes after he exposed his fraudulent business practices.


Despite these arrests, family members of Gomes suspect a larger crime network was involved in his death, due to Gomes’ reporting on organized crime, according to local reports.




  1. Luciano Leitão Pedrosa



Photo:A Voz da Vitoria


Date: April 9, 2011




Luciano Leitão Pedrosa worked as a television and radio journalist, as well as host of the show “Ação e Cidadania” (Action and Citizenship), which focused on crime and corruption in the region. According to the Impunity Project, Pedrosa received death threats for his work, although co-workers say he never discussed them.


Tactical Information:


According to local newspaper Diaro de Pernambuco, Pedrosa entered the Porto Luna Restaurant in the city of Vitória de Santo Antão on Saturday evening. Around 21:00, as Pedrosa talked to the restaurant owner waiting for his to-go meal, two men wearing neither gloves, hoods, nor masks parked a blue Titan motorcycle outside. One waited while the other entered the restaurant and fired four times with a .38 caliber pistol, all shots missing save one which hit Pedrosa in the head, killing him instantly. The gunman immediately left the restaurant and escaped with the accomplice who waited outside, according to local bloggers.




Pedrosa lived in Pernambuco, one of the easternmost provinces of Brazil. He was killed in a restaurant in the Bela Vista neighborhood of Vitória de Santo Antão. A satellite map of the area can be seen here.




Despite a police reward, there have been no recent developments in the case. Despite a documented wealth of evidence, as reported by Globo, which includes fingerprints, a police sketch of the accomplice, and security cameras, no leads have currently been found.














3.  Edinaldo Filgueira




Photo: Jornal o Serrano


Date: June 15, 2011




Edinaldo Filgueira served as director of the Jornal o Serrano newspaper, as well as local representative of the leading regional political party. He was murdered by gunmen in his rural hometown in the evening of June 15, 2011. As reported in Tribuna do Norte, lead investigators in the case attribute Filgueira’s death to his reporting. His sister also reported that Filgueira had received numerous threats for his work, according to local news site Meio Norte.


Tactical Information:


According to the report in Meio Norte, Edinaldo Filgueira was killed around 22:00 Wednesday leaving his office for home. He walked out the front door, pausing to speak with friends on the sidewalk, when three locally hired hitmen approached. Driving past on a single motorcycle, they fired over ten shots- six of which hit their target- and sped off.  Filgueira tried to escape but was unsuccessful, and according to blogger Sidney Silva, died on the scene. Local news reports later stated police had arrested 5 men for the murder. The assailants were caught with rifles and .38 caliber pistols, some of which police later confirmed were used in the attack.




Serra do Mel is a small town in the rural part Rio Grande do Norte state, in the easternmost region of the country. It sits near the city of Mossoro, and has an economy based on subsistence collective farming.




Tribuna do Norte reports that 9 participants have thus far been indicted in the conspiracy to kill Filgueira. Josiva Bibiabo de Azevedo, the Mayor of Serra do Mel and head of the party opposite Filgueira’s, has been named the mastermind, having been charged with ordering the killing in response to Filgueira’s journalistic and political activities. According to local media reports, all are currently in prison except the mayor who was released upon writ of habeus corpus.




  1. Gelson Domingos da Silva



Photo: Jornal Sport News


Date: November 6, 2011




According to news magazine Veja, Gelson Domingos da Silva worked as a renowned cameraman for the Bandeirantes television network on November 6, 2011 when he was killed in crossfire between traffickers and the police he was embedded with.

Tactical Information:


Gelson was embedded with the Batalhão de Operações Especiais (BOPE), a division of the Brazilian special police charged with capturing drug gangs operating in the favela of Rio de Janeiro. The BOPE raid began around 6:30am on November 6th, 2011 when eighty police officers entered the community and were met with gunfire from drug traffickers. About 100 officers were involved in the operation which lasted until the evening, though heavy fighting lasted only 1 hour.


The police and traffickers were exchanging fire when Gelson was hit in the chest through his bulletproof vest, likely by a high-powered rifle, according to a UOL report. His colleagues at Bandeirantes indicated that Gelson was wearing a bulletproof vest, but it was incapable of stopping the armor-piercing rounds fired by the traffickers.


Once shot, he was put in a police car and rushed to the nearest medical facility, but was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital at 7:40 am, despite resuscitation efforts. Video and photos of the raid document the event.




The raid occurred in the Antares favela of Rio de Janiero. Other journalists have fallen victim to favela crime, but few have been killed in crossfire incidents while embedded with police. Satellite images of the area can be seen here.




Reports from news site indicated that while no police were killed in the raid, 4 traffickers were killed and 9 were captured, raising hopes that the gunman who shot Gelson could be identified via recovered footage from his camera.




5.  Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes



Photo: Diário do Vale


Date: February 9, 2012




Digital journalist Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes covered local politics and corruption in Rio de Janeiro state as editor-in-chief of the online site Vassouras na Net. Because of his willingness to name and investigate corrupt local politicians and criminal groups, he was a frequent target of attacks, having been shot while based out of the city of Vassouras. He later relocated to Barra do Piraí but continued work on his site.


Tactical Information:


According to Globo, digital journalist Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes and his partner were found dead on a roadside nearby their home in the southern city of Barra do Piraí, after being abducted and slain the previous evening. Police investigations subsequently revealed that the couple was likely abducted from Lopes’ partner’s home around 1:30 am and taken to a separate location to be executed via close-range gunshots.




Barra do Piraí is a small city in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state, sitting roughly 80 miles from the city of Rio de Janeiro. A satellite map of the area can be seen here.




After his shooting in July, Lopes complained to colleagues that the police investigation was slow and ineffective. After his death in March, little has been reported on advancements in the investigation, with police struggling to determine which of Lopes’ many enemies was involved in his killing.




6.  Décio Sá



Photo: Blog do Décio


Date: April 23, 2012




According to Globo, Décio Sá worked as a prominent blogger and political journalist, writing for his influential blog Blog do Décio after a career as a reporter with O Estado do Maranhão. Sá wrote frequently on political corruption and local political figures dealings with organized crime. His murder was not officially classified as relating to his journalism, but subsequent revelations have indicated a probable link between his writing and his death.


Tactical Information:


Sá was shot six times at a local bar by an attacker who fled via motorcycle. According to reports in Veja, Sá’s colleagues believed his killing may have stemmed from his investigations into local murders linked to prominent political figures in the area. City investigators also cast doubt onto the theory that the crime was a random shooting, as the murder weapon appeared to use bullets available only to police officers.




Sá worked as a journalist in the city of São Luís, the capital of the northeastern state of Maranhão. The historic city is known as a cultural center for the region. A satellite map of the area can be seen here.




In June 2012, six suspects were arrested for involvement in Sá’s murder, according to a report from Reporters Without Borders. Among them were the two politically active local businessmen, the accused masterminds who targeted Sá because of his investigations into their involvement with racketeering and murder. The others arrested were a group of two men accused of hiring the hitman, who was also apprehended. Lastly, a former police official was also taken into custody, accused of providing the murder weapon. Should charges be formally filed, Sá’s murder would appear to be directly linked to his work as a journalist.




Sources Cited


1. Gomes de Medeiros

CPJ, “Francisco Gomes de Medeiros.”


Sidney Silva, “Acusados do homicídio de F. Gomes serão ouvidos.”


Tribuna do Norte, “Delegado indicia três pessoas por envolvimento com o assassinato de F. Gomes.”


Tribuna do Norte, “Empresário é acusado de ter mandado matar F. Gomes.”


Tribuna do Norte, “Assassinato do radialista F.Gomes completa um ano.”


2. Pedrosa


Proyecto Impunidad/Impunity Project. “IAPA condemns new murder in Brazil, calls for prompt investigation to prevent it from going unpunished.”


Diario de Pernambuco, “Recompensa de até R$ 2 mil por informações do assassinato de radialista.”




Globo, “Apresentador de TV morto em Vitória sofria ameaças, diz a investigação.”,531744,8,298,NOTICIAS,766-APRESENTADOR-MORTO-VITORIA-SOFRIA-AMEACAS-DIZ-INVESTIGACAO.aspx


3. Filgueira


Tribuna do Norte, “Polícia indicia 8 pessoas por morte de presidente do PT no interior.”


Meio Norte, “RN: Presidente municipal do PT, Edinaldo Filgueira, foi assassinado em Serra do Mel.”


Sidney Silva, “Delegado espera em 40 dias apontar o verdadeiro interessando na morte de jornalista de Serra do Mel.”


Terra, “Polícia prende suspeitos de assassinar líder petista no RN.”,,OI5222002-EI5030,00-Policia+prende+supostos+matadores+de+aluguel+no+RN.html


Diario De Natal, “Entrevista: Lázaro Amaro, Advogado.”


4. Domingos da Silva


Veja, “Cinegrafista morre durante operação do Bope no Rio de Janeiro.”


UOL, “Cinegrafista da TV Bandeirantes morre durante operação policial no Rio.”


YouTube, “Repórter cinematográfico da TV Bandeirantes é morto durante ação da PM no Rio.”


5. Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes


Vassouras na Net.


Diário do Vale. “Jornalista é baleado em tentativa de assalto.”,42891,Jornalista%20e%20baleado%20em%20tentativa%20de%20assalto.html#axzz1lbswVC7I


Globo. “Polícia investiga assassinato de casal em Barra do Piraí, no RJ.”


Diário do Vale. “Polícia ainda sem pista sobre assassinato de jornalista.”,52900,Policia-ainda-sem-pista-sobre-assassinato-de-jornalista.html#ixzz1xmqXhdhN


Terra. “Polícia Civil investiga assassinato de jornalista no RJ.”,,OI5605478-EI5030,00-Policia+Civil+investiga+assassinato+de+jornalista+no+RJ.html


6. Décio Sá


Globo. “Jornalista é morto no MA; secretário de Segurança diz que foi ‘encomenda’.”


Blog do Décio.


Veja. “‘Assassinato de jornalista foi encomendado’, afirma Secretário de Segurança do Maranhão.”


Reporters Without Borders. “Seven arrested in investigation into killing of blogger Décio Sá.”



Photo courtesy of Secretaria de Imprensa e Divulgação, licensed under Creative Commons License Attribution 3.0 Brazil.

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