Amazon disappearance family: "He is innocent"

ATALAIA DON NORTE (Brazil) -- The family of the only person arrested in connection with the disappearance in Brazil of a British journalist, and Indigenous official in Amazon claimed Friday that he was innocent.

Amazon disappearance family: "He is innocent"

ATALAIA DON NORTE (Brazil) -- The family of the only person arrested in connection with the disappearance in Brazil of a British journalist, and Indigenous official in Amazon claimed Friday that he was innocent. They also claimed that authorities tried to force him to confess.

Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist, and Bruno Pereira, an Indigenous official, were last seen Sunday morning in Javari Valley. This is Brazil's second largest Indigenous territory. It sits in an isolated region bordering Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. They were visiting the Sao Rafael community. They had intended to return by boat to Atalaia Do Norte, but they never arrived.

The family of Amarildo da Silva de Oliveira (also known as Pelado) claims that their father disappeared are the latest developments in a case that has attracted international attention. This search involved several agencies, and criticised Brazilian authorities for not responding quickly. The family's claims to The Associated Press come a day after witnesses claimed that de Oliveira had told them things they didn't believe.

De Oliveira was taken into custody Tuesday at his Sao Gabriel riverine home, near the spot where the pair disappeared on Sunday. Although initially he was arrested for illegal gun possession police later stated that he was now being held at Atalaia Do Norte police station as a suspect in the disappearance.

Osenei de Costa de Oliveira (41), also a fisherman, stated Friday that he had visited his brother in prison.

"He said he was at his home when they handcuffed me," Osenei de Costa de Oliveira stated, speaking from the station where his brother is being held. They put him on a boat and started to travel to Atalaia Do Norte. They put him on another boat when they reached Curupira river. They beat him, tortured and pepper-sprayed him. He was also drugged twice more times, but I'm not sure what they used.

Osenei de Costa de Oliveira said, "They wanted him confess but he is innocent."

In a statement, the Amazonas State's public security secretariat, which oversees local police officers, stated that it will not comment on the family's allegations because the Federal Police was handling the investigation into the disappearance. A Friday email to the Federal Police asking for comment was not answered immediately.

Maria de Fatima da Costa da Costa, the mother of Amarildo da Costa de Oliira, stated that she was at Atalaia de Norte when her son arrived with police. She said that he was wearing a hood and could not walk independently. He was also soaking wet.

She told the AP that she had told police that he wasn't a criminal and should not be treated as such.

She claimed that the blood found in her son’s boat by police was likely from a blood he had killed just a few days prior to being arrested. The blood was being tested at a laboratory, according to authorities.

Pereira and Phillips were accompanied by members of the Indigenous group of watchmen on Saturday. Phillips disappeared the following day. On Thursday, Univaja, the president of a Javari Valley association of Indigenous people, said to the AP that de Oliveira, along with two other men, had pointed guns at them. Paulo Marubo (the president of Univaja, a Javari Valley organization of Indigenous peoples), also said that Phillips had photographed the men.

Family members of the suspect also denied that he was armed. Francisco Conceicao de Freitas, the father-in-law of the suspect, said that he was on a fishing boat with de Oliveira and that his son in-law waved an "oar" at Pereira and Phillips.

According to the family, they were not illegally fishing in Javari Valley Indigenous Territory. This territory has been a popular spot for illegal hunting and fishing. De Oliveira also stated that he doesn't have any criminal records and was only detained once for unfounded suspicions of transporting drugs.

Phillips and Pereira were speaking to people near the protected area but had never entered the area, according multiple people interviewed by the AP in the area.

Amazonas' state police are long accused of unlawful raids and extrajudicial killings. Governor. Three massacres that involved local officers took place since Wilson Lima was elected to office in 2019. One of them ended in 17 deaths in Manaus, capital of Brazil, in October 2020. All three cases were denied by police.

Folha de S.Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, reported last year that seven extrajudicial killings had been committed by Tabatinga police, which is the nearest major city to Atalaia Do Norte. They believed these killings were linked to the assassination of an officer. Some victims were tortured and their families received death threats. The police never responded to the allegations.

The Brazilian Public Security Forum published a study in 2021 that showed that the number killed by police officers in 18 of Brazil's 27 states had increased over the past year.

Phillips, 57 years old, has been reporting from Brazil for over a decade. He is currently working on a book on preservation of the Amazon.

Pereira worked in Javari Valley since the beginning of his career for the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency. Pereira was responsible for the coordination of isolated Indigenous groups and their regional office. He then went on leave to assist local Indigenous people in fighting illegal poachers and fishermen. Pereira was threatened for his work for years.

-------- AP journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed this report from Sao Paulo.


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