Rights Groups Condemn Slow Response to Death Threats Against Brazilian Environmental Champion
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international press freedom organization, and the Environmental Communications Network of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedCalc), a group of environmental journalists and communicators from more than 15 countries, have formally condemned the slow response of local police to death threats against renowned Brazilian environmental journalist Vilmar Berna. The Niterói police in Rio de Janeiro state received Berna’s complaint of repeated death threats and intimidation as early as June 7, but refrained from reporting the incident to local judicial authorities until July 5, after the negligence was publicized in a national newspaper, reports RSF.
In early May, a partially burned and bloody body was placed outside Berna’s home, according to RSF. In the following weeks, Berna received multiple anonymous phone calls saying he would be killed soon, and on May 27 six men entered his home and threatened him in person. Berna told RSF that the authorities began to take action only after he received media attention. According to Eduardo Athayde, director of the Worldwatch Institute affiliate Universidade Livre da Mata Atlântica (UMA) in Brazil and a professional partner of Berna, many Spanish and Portuguese newswires are now spreading Berna’s story and alerting the public to the situation.
Berna is a member of the UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honour For Environmental Achievement, and founder and editor of the environmental news service Jornal do Meio Ambiente and its associated magazine Revista do Meio Ambiente. He is also a founder of the Brazilian Environmental News Network Rebia and of the nongovernmental organizations Univerde and Defensores da Terra. Among other achievements, Berna has preserved some 3,000 hectares of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest through creation of the Serra da Tiririca State Park, helped enact a law guaranteeing the land rights of 15,000 indigenous people in Rio de Janeiro, and exposed the illegal use of fine-mesh fishing nets.
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