A search is ongoing for a British journalist and a senior official of Brazil’s indigenous protection agency, FUNAI, who disappeared on a Sunday morning boat trip to a remote area of the Amazon rainforest.
Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist with more than 14 years of experience covering the Amazon, was traveling to the Javari Valley, near the triple border of Peru, Colombia and Brazil, for a book he writes about environmental issues. He was accompanied by Bruno Araújo Pereira, a veteran protector of indigenous rights who oversaw the area for years for FUNAI and who reportedly received numerous death threats for his work defending indigenous groups in the area from exploitation. illegal mining, fishing and logging. The region is also known to be an active smuggling route for drug traffickers.
The two men were traveling the Ituí and Itaqui rivers, returning to the town of Atalaia do Norte, in the state of Amazonas, after a multi-day trip to visit FUNAI agents and indigenous communities, according to a press release. of the Union of Indigenous Organizations. of the Javari Valley and the Human Rights Observatory for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples. The men had received threats during their trip, according to the statement, which did not specify the source of the threats.
“It should be noted that Bruno Pereira is an experienced person with in-depth knowledge of the region,” read the statement from the two groups. “The two missing were traveling with a new boat, a 40 [horsepower engine]70 liters of gasoline, enough for the trip and 7 empty fuel drums.
Their boat was last seen passing the community of São Gabriel, less than two hours from Atalaia do Norte, sometime after 6 a.m. Sunday. When the boat did not arrive as expected, local Aboriginal groups mobilized search parties that afternoon, but no sign of the men or their boat has yet been found. FUNAI told The Intercept it was actively following the case and noted that Pereira was on leave from the organization and not operating in an official capacity during the trip.
Phillips, an award-winning journalist who has written for The Intercept, The Guardian, The Washington Post and many other outlets, had visited the Amazon on four other reporting trips over the past 15 months. He has received threats on previous trips over the years while reporting on environmentally destructive criminal activity. In 2021, he received the prestigious Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship to write his as yet unpublished book.
The federal prosecutor’s office in Amazonas told The Intercept it was aware of the disappearance and had begun investigating and called on the police and navy to begin the search, but it could not confirm whether those research efforts were already underway. The Brazilian Navy said in a statement that a search and rescue team had been ordered to begin a search, but did not confirm whether it had already been deployed. Federal law enforcement did not immediately respond to The Intercept’s request for comment. The spokesman for the army’s regional command told the Guardian that it is “ready to carry out this humanitarian search and rescue mission” but has not yet received orders to do so from the government of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly demonized the press. In 2019, Bolsonaro supporters widely circulated a video of the president responding aggressively to a question from Phillips about the environment with the caption “British journalist tries to put Bolsonaro up against the wall and is refuted by the president”.
“I am very worried about the increase in violence against journalists in Brazil, especially in the Amazon region, because it is home to very sensitive problems: irregular fires, invasions of indigenous villages by wild miners, loggers and armed people who want to evict indigenous peoples from their lands,” said Angelina Nunes, who leads the Tim Lopes program for the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism, which investigates the killings of journalists in the country.
“It’s very dangerous for anyone who is going to investigate a story there that will deal with these subjects, and we accompany this case with great concern,” Nunes added, by telephone. His organization has documented 173 cases of attacks against journalists in Brazil since January, including 45 physical attacks or threats of physical violence.
“It is urgent that the authorities dedicate all the necessary resources to the immediate execution of the searches in order to guarantee their safety”, wrote Maria Laura Canineu, Brazilian director of Human Rights Watch.