Journalists under threat in Amazon rainforest - report

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) -The murder of British reporter Dom Phillips in the Amazon rainforest two years ago was not an isolated crime in a region where violence against journalists has soared in recent years, a report published on Wednesday said.

As the world's interest in the Amazon as a barrier against climate change has grown, so has the work of journalists reporting on environmental and other crimes in the vast and often lawless region but it has come at a price.

There have been 230 cases of violence against journalists in the Amazon in the last decade, with nine reporters murdered, the Vladimir Herzog Institute, a nonprofit rights organization said.

Incidents of violence against journalists more than doubled from 20 to 45 between 2021 and 2022, years when former hard-right President Jair Bolsonaro was in office, according to its report.

Bolsonaro eased environmental controls and gutted enforcement agencies to foster development in the Amazon, which spawned a boom in illegal gold mining and logging.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office last year, has said he will confront organized crime contributing to destruction of the world's largest tropical rainforest. Deforestation has slowed but progress has been hard on other fronts.

Violence against journalists retreated in 2023, the report from the Herzog Institute showed, but remained slightly above the historical average.

Philips was shot in 2022 by illegal fishermen when traveling with Bruno Pereira, an expert on isolated indigenous people who was tracking the activity of poachers on protected reservation land.

The Herzog Institute report, which documents 230 cases of violence against journalists in the Amazon since 2013, said reporters have left the rainforest fearing for their lives after receiving threats from miners, loggers and ranchers who have occupied indigenous lands.

In 2020, Roman dos Anjos, who reported on illegal gold mining in the Yanomami reservation, was kidnapped, beaten and left in the forest with broken limbs. He survived the ordeal and is still waiting for his kidnappers to be brought to justice.

In 2020, a journalist who investigated the sale of mercury, which is used by wildcat miners to separate the gold from ore, was chased and threatened by miners in Rondonia state capital Porto Velho. On a reporting trip a year later, gunmen fired in the air to scare him away, the Herzog Institute said.

In 2022, in the same city, criminals machine-gunned the office of the local newspaper Rondonia ao Vivo, which had criticized the interests of farmers pushing the agricultural frontier into Indigenous lands, the report said.

"The Brazilian State urgently needs to ensure the safety of journalists and their sources," TV reporter Sonia Bridi, a veteran of Amazon coverage, wrote in the report. "The Amazon is a territory increasingly controlled by criminal organizations."

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Marguerita Choy)