Activists and lawyers representing the families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira have voiced frustration and anger after the preliminary court hearings of three of their alleged murderers had to be suspended because of poor internet and logistical problems at the high-security prisons where the defendants are being held.
Three of the suspected killers of the British journalist and Brazilian Indigenous specialist were scheduled to give evidence from behind bars this week during partly online hearings that are expected to pave the way for a jury trial, possibly in the second half of this year.
However, connectivity and logistical issues at the penitentiaries where the trio are currently imprisoned, in the states of Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul, as well as at the courthouse in the Amazon city of Tabatinga, meant it was impossible to complete proceedings because many statements were rendered incomprehensible.
Lawyers had hoped to hear from more than 10 witnesses during a session anticipated to last three days but only five were heard between Monday and Wednesday. Lawyers were unable to interrogate the three defendants, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, Oseney da Costa de Oliveira and Jefferson da Silva Lima. On Tuesday the session was reportedly scuppered by a power cut in Tabatinga.
Lawyers representing the families of Pereira and Phillips – who were shot dead last June while returning from a reporting trip in the Amazon – voiced exasperation.
“I regret that the Brazilian state appears not to be giving due importance to the case – to the extent that, for example, it isn’t able to make sure the defendants attend these hearings,” said João Bechara Calmon, a lawyer working for Pereira’s widow Beatriz Matos.
“This is such a simple thing to ensure and thus far the Brazilian state seems not to have been able to do it. I think this causes the families additional suffering,” added Calmon who called the situation “shameful”.
The Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recent Contact Indigenous Peoples (Opi) group, which Pereira helped found, said the fiasco “shamed Brazilian society” and caused unnecessary pain to the men’s families.
“If the judgment of the three executioners faces this kind of difficulty, how can we believe that the masterminds will be brought to trial?” Opi asked.
Rafael Fagundes, a lawyer for Phillips’s family, said: “We lament these technical problems and hope they are resolved as soon as possible so proceedings can continue.”
Amnesty International Brasil denounced the judiciary’s “incredible negligence” towards people who had paid for trying to protect Brazil’s rainforests with their lives. “We demand justice for Bruno and Dom!” the group tweeted.
Calmon said he believed public prosecutors had a very solid case against the three men based on an extensive body of compelling evidence produced during the investigation. He was confident that once the preliminary hearing – which should resume on Thursday – was successfully concluded, the judge would order a full trial.
“The state, which has failed so much, now has the chance to redeem itself, to some degree, for the failures and omissions that ended up leading to this tragedy,” the lawyer said. “Although we obviously all know that no conviction will ever repair the damage done by these individuals.”