Dom Phillips family want 'justice that makes journalists feel safe to report'

Family of Dom Phillips want 'justice that will make journalists feel safe to report'

Protest for journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, in Brazil

The family of Dom Phillips have said they want “the kind of justice that makes it possible” for other journalists to feel safe doing the sort of reporting he did in Brazil.

Three men have been arrested in connection with the killing of freelance journalist Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, the indigenous expert who was accompanying the journalist on a reporting trip in a remote region of the Amazon rainforest.

Phillips had become well-known for his journalism about environmental issues affecting the Amazon rainforest, with work in newspapers including The Guardian, Washington Post and New York Times. He was shortlisted in Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards 2020 as part of a Bureau of Investigative Journalism team investigating evidence of links between the beef trade and deforestation.

His death has made him the 16th UK journalist to be killed doing their jobs since 2000.

Phillips (pictured, left) and Pereira (right) were last seen on Sunday 5 June and the alarm was raised after they did not arrive where they were expected to stay the night.

Pressure for a wide-ranging search soon began after accusations that the authorities were too slow to react, and human remains were identified as Phillips and Pereira almost two weeks later. Some of their belongings, including a backpack and a pair of boots belonging to Phillips, and a health card, black pants, a black sandal and a pair of boots belonging to Pereira, had already been found.

The primary suspect arrested in connection with the deaths, a fisherman  reportedly led police to the burial site and confessed to shooting the men. None of the men, who include the fisherman’s brother, have been charged.

Five other men, relatives of the two brothers, are being investigated for allegedly helping the suspects to move Phillips’ and Pereira’s remains, according to The Guardian.

Sky News reported that Phillips was shot in the chest and Pereira was shot in the head and abdomen.

On Saturday, Phillips’ sister said he had been on his final of several trips in the Amazon this year, where he was speaking to people working on projects including sustainable agro-forestry for his planned book entitled How to Save the Amazon.

She also said the atmosphere in the country, where Phillips had lived since 2007, had changed since President Jair Bolsonaro took power in 2019 and indigenous people and the environment of the Amazon both came under attack.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sian Phillips said: “I think he underplayed the risks to some extent. But we knew that there were risks.

“It was an area he had travelled in with Bruno before but of course things have changed since Bolsonaro has been in power. The rights of the indigenous people have been rolled back.”

Ms Phillips’ partner Paul Sherwood said the family is “almost certain” that the pair were killed by people involved in illegal fishing because of their investigations into the trade, as he called for “justice”.

Speaking on the same Today programme, he said Phillips “would have been aware that there would have been many people who would be happy to see the back of him because it was inconvenient truth he was uncovering.

“We are almost certain now that they were attacked by people who were involved in illegal fishing. What we don’t know is what lies behind that.

“Were they acting alone as the police have said recently or was there a larger involvement of other powerful people, organised crime?

“There is a lot of drug trafficking as well as organised crime involved in the poaching of fish.

“We want the kind of justice that makes it possible for journalists and protectors of the rainforest to feel that they are safe in continuing to report from and help the indigenous people.”

Following Phillips’ disappearance, Bolsonaro drew criticism for saying Phillips was “disliked” in the area for his reporting and should have been more careful.

The far-right president told Brazilian journalist Leda Nagle in an interview for her Youtube channel: “That Englishman was disliked in the region, because he wrote a lot of articles against illegal gold miners [and] environmental issues.

“A lot of people didn’t like him. He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead.”

Bolsonaro added that it was “very reckless to travel in that region without being sufficiently prepared, physically and with weapons”.

Sian Phillips told The Guardian her brother wanted his book to be “mainstream… so that it alerted everybody to the problems with the deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon.

“He wanted to find people to talk to in the Amazon who could tell their story. He wanted to give their story.”

Phillips was editor of music magazine Mixmag in the UK for much of the 1990s before he moved to Brazil. David Davies, another former Mixmag editor, described him as a “devoted” editor who charted in detail the dance music of the decade.

Davies added: “But the journalist we now see more obviously in Dom’s work protecting Brazil’s Indigenous communities was just as strong in his time as editor of Mixmag. There was the front cover story of a riot in Trafalgar Square as police fought against the underground rave scene.

“There were features exposing gang activity, others highlighting racist door policies, undercover drug stories and much more. Dom’s Mixmag was on the side of the reader, their reality was the one he was most interested in. It took two years to pull off but it was Mixmag that properly investigated: How drugs affect your driving. On a disused airfield with real life volunteers.”

A fundraiser set up for the families of Phillips and Pereira has raised more than $77,000 to help them as they face “unimaginably difficult circumstances at this moment and, unfortunately, we know that their fight for justice will not be easy or without costs”.

Additional reporting by PA Media

Picture: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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