End all violence against journalists!

We journalists of Rio de Janeiro express our concern and outrage against the escalating violence against press professionals in the city, and we urge state and federal authorities as well as organized civil society to collaborate with us in an effort to establish responses and concrete actions to put an end to this problem, which threatens the journalism profession as a whole and therefore Brazilian democracy.

Violence against journalists is not a new phenomenon and is not restricted to our country´s borders. In the last decade, 619 journalists were killed around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Brazil is among the ten most deadly countries for the profession, with 16 deaths from 2004 to 2014. In Rio de Janeiro, the death of video journalist Santiago Ilídio Andrade, hit by a rocket fired by demonstrators while covering a protest in Central Brazil in February this year, follows other hard and emblematic losses, such as the murder of reporter Tim Lopes in 2002 and the death of Gelson Domingues, also a video journalist, in 2011.

In Rio de Janeiro, however, the situation is getting worse. Besides the risk of death, journalists have faced routine beatings, threats and harassment while carrying out their work. The Rio de Janeiro Municipal Union of Professional Journalists has recorded 110 cases of violence against professional journalists, freelancers, bloggers and citizens engaged in seeking and disseminating information since May 2013. Of these aggressions, 68% were committed by police, 29% by demonstrators and 3% – two cases –by other agents.

Attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable, regardless of who commits them and the motives alleged. They are an attempt to obstruct the work of press professionals, which is fundamental to the defense of democracy and human rights. To fight against these attacks is an urgent task.

Since the number of cases began to increase, unions, federations and associations of journalists have asked for effective responses from the government, the media companies and social movements to end the violence. In Rio de Janeiro, violence against journalists was the subject of a public hearing in the City Council in November 2013. Held at the request of the Municipal Union, the event included representatives of the civil and military polices and of human rights organizations. The matter was also taken to the highest forum on human rights in the continent, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS (Organization of American States), which organized a hearing to question the violence during demonstrations in Brazil. At the federal level, there are proposals to create an observatory of cases of violence against journalists, with the support of the local office of the United Nations, and to federalize the investigation of crimes committed against these professionals. In Rio, the Labor Prosecutor’s Office notified the media companies to implement 16 basic measures to prevent or reduce the damage caused by violence in the streets. These recommendations – which resulted from an inquiry demanded by the Municipal Union to investigate the circumstances of Santiago’s death – have not been entirely implemented so far.

Despite these and other initiatives, violence against journalists by activists and state security forces has not stopped. That means it is necessary to expand the reach of our actions, a task that can only be met with the full participation of the category of professional journalists.

We understand that, besides the demands addressed to authorities – requiring a police conduct in line with the freedoms and the rights to physical integrity and to life guaranteed by the Constitution –, we must state clearly to the social forces on the streets and in the public debate that we repudiate any act, from physical aggressions to virtual harassments, intended to intimidate journalists and to hinder their work.

Some other initiatives are already under construction. This is the case of the Security Commission, which will collaborate with the Municipal Union in designing strategies and actions to protect media professionals. Another initiative contemplated is the organization of a new public hearing on the matter.

We believe that a collective effort can make it possible to end the violence against journalists not only in Rio de Janeiro but in Brazil as well. Together we are stronger to fight for a society in which journalists not only can work in peace, but are also recognized for the importance of their profession to the expansion and consolidation of democracy.

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