Voices in Danger: The son of an assassinated sports journalist fights for justice in Brazil

“Every time a crime is committed by powerful people in Goiás, the same thing always happens....the accused are never sent to jury”

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A masked man on a motorbike gunned down Brazilian sports journalist, Valerio Luiz de Oliveira, through the window of his stationary car. He was dead within minutes. The sports journalist's son and lawyer, Valerio Luis de Oliveira Filho, talks to Voices in Danger about the ongoing battle for justice two years on.

“Everything in my life still revolves around what happened on 5 July 2012,” Filho reveals. He recalls the scene outside his father's workplace at Rádio Jornal 820 AM in Goiânia, the capital of the central state Goiás, in Brazil: “I saw my father's car standing with its two doors open, the glass riddled with bullets. His left foot, with the sneakers and socks that he always wore, hung outside of the car...it took a while to sink in...the main sensation was one of revolt.”

A week before his assassination, Oliveira had made on-air comments comparing the management of the local football club,The Atlético Clube Goianiense, to rats. André Isac, a coworker of Oliveira's, warned him afterwards, “...not to dig and talk about people from Atlético, because they are very dangerous.”

Filho was not aware of the death threats his father had been receiving so when Oliveira purchased a taser, Filho questioned him. Oliveira responded, ”It's for my own security.“ Oliveira also told his son that he would one day stop working as a football commentator. “Today I understand that his plans were related to the pressure that he was was under,” said Filho.

The eight month long police investigation found that Oliveira's assassination was motivated by, “Oliveira's strong criticism and harsh statements” about the management of the local football club, Atlético Clube Goianiense. Police investigators have accused the Club's powerful former Vice-President, Maurício Sampaio, of involvement in the killing of the sportswriter along with the help of two paid-up cops and two assistants. Sampaio has continuously denied any involvement.

 

If convicted, this will be the first case in the world where a sports journalist has been assassinated for his comments about a local football club.

“Because of the evidence we have gathered,” said Filho, “I am convinced of the their guilt. I feel, like me, my grandfather is confident that we will be able to put all the charged ones in jail.” Filho, however, has his doubts.

The suspected gunman, Marcus Vinícius, is believed to now be residing in Europe. He posts photos on his Facebook page where he is seen to be enjoying the sun. The judge Lourival Machado da Costa, the 2nd Criminal Court of the State of Goiás, requested that an arrest warrant be sent to the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) for his capture. Vinícius remains at large.

“There is an aggravating matter,” Filho said as he reflects on the struggle to gain justice in Brazil. “Every time a crime is committed by powerful people in Goiás, the same thing always happens....the accused are never sent to jury.” If justice is not served next month, Filho plans to take the case to the Federal Courts.

Filho doesn't know whether he will see justice happen, but with Father's Day approaching in August in Brazil, he will write a homage to his father, as he has done on previous Father's Days. “Whenever it all comes to an end,” Filho said, “it will be both a relief and a victory but, at the same time, people's lives will move on. Little by little, my father's memory will stay only with me and my family. By then, only his absence will remain in our lives and how much we miss him, how much I wished to share with him a lot of aspects from my own personal life.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Impunity Index 2014, Brazil is the 11th deadliest country in the world for journalists. “Brazil is home to a vibrant investigative press, but journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go free,” found CPJ's special report, Halftime for the Brazilian Press 2014.

Representatives of the Brazilian Government were invited to comment on Brazil's record of journalists being murdered with impunity. There was no response.

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