The first suspect arrested in the disappearance of a British journalist and Brazilian indigenous affairs expert in a remote region of the Amazon has admitted to killing the pair, Brazilian authorities said during a press conference Wednesday.
Shortly before the press conference, Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres said in a tweet that Federal Police have dug out “human remains,” which will be submitted to forensics.
Veteran correspondent Dom Phillips and Brazilian researcher Bruno Araújo Pereira vanished on June 5, during a trip in the Javari Valley, in the far western part of Amazonas state. They were last seen in the Sao Rafael community, a two-hour boat ride from Atalaia do Norte city, after accompanying an indigenous patrol in the Itaquaí river organized to prevent invasions from illegal fisherman and hunters on the Javari Valley Indigenous Land.
On Tuesday, police arrested a second suspect in connection with the missing men, according to a press release from the Federal Police. The first suspect was arrested last week.
Police said the second suspect, a 41-year-old man, was being interrogated and would be referred to a custody hearing in the municipal court. They also said they seized some firearm cartridges and a paddle, which will be analyzed.
Phillips and Pereira disappeared while conducting research for a book project on conservation efforts in the region, which authorities have described as “complicated” and “dangerous,” and known to harbor illegal miners, loggers, and international drug dealers.
They had reportedly received death threats just days prior to their disappearance.
Their case has drawn global attention to the perils often faced by journalists and environmental activists in Brazil.
Between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 people were killed in Brazil amid land and resource conflicts in the Amazon, according to Human Rights Watch, citing figures from the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit affiliated with the Catholic Church.
And in 2020, Global Witness ranked Brazil the fourth most-dangerous country for environmental activism, based on documented killings of environmental defenders. Nearly three quarters of such attacks in Brazil took place in the Amazon region, it said.
Phillips had reported extensively on Brazil’s most marginalized groups and on the destruction that criminal actors are wreaking on the Amazon.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized the pair’s trip since their disappearance, saying in an interview on YouTube prior to the suspect’s confession on Wednesday that Philips and Pereira’s activities were “reckless” and suggested that if they had been “killed,” the bodies would be missing in the Javari River.