In Depth

What happened to Dom Phillips?

British journalist feared dead after fisherman suspect led police to the remains of two men

Police in Brazil say a suspect has confessed to burying the bodies of missing British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.

Detective Eduardo Fontes said the lead suspect in the case told police he used a gun to kill the two men before they were buried nearly two miles into the woods. He has led investigators to a site where human remains were dug up.

Brazilian police said the development means their investigation has moved into a new phase, noted Sky News.

Who are the suspects?

Two suspects, brothers Amarildo and Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, have been arrested.

The Times said the brothers are believed to have been among a group who brandished guns at the two men in the days before they disappeared.

There is speculation that Phillips and Pereira were seen as a threat to the profitable illegal business of commercial fishing in the area, which is part of a protected reserve.

Detective Fontes told a press conference that the “first suspect” – Amarildo – has “recounted in detail the crime that was committed and indicated the place where he buried the bodies”.

However, his family say he denies doing anything wrong and claim that military police tortured him to get a confession, and his brother denies any involvement.

Fontes said that police would work with Interpol to confirm the bodies’ identities. Detectives said they expect to carry out further arrests “at any moment”, reported CNN.

When and where did Phillips disappear?

Phillips, a longtime contributor to The Guardian, and Pereira, a former government official tasked with protecting Brazil’s uncontacted tribes, disappeared on 5 June in a remote region of the Javari Valley in Amazonas state, near the border with Peru.

The area is “notorious for illegal mining and drug trafficking”, according to The Times.

The two men were reported missing by two indigenous rights group – Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja) and the Observatory for Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (OPI).

In a statement, the groups said that Phillips and Pereira set off on a two-day boat trip to interview members of an indigenous guard. A search party was sent out after they failed to arrive.

What was Phillips doing there?

Phillips was based in the Brazilian city of Salvador and contributed to a string of papers including The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Financial Times. He was also working on a book about the preservation of the Amazon.

Phillips used to write about British dance music but his “journalistic focus since 2007 has been on Brazil, its indigenous communities and the environment”, reported Mixmag, which he edited in the 1990s.

The veteran correspondent “has reported critically on topics including the policies of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, corruption among the president’s political allies, and allegations against meat processing companies and goldminers for illegal Amazon deforestation that is impacting indigenous communities”, said the magazine.

What has been done to find the missing men?

A team of ten people from Brazil’s navy were dispatched to search for Phillips and Pereira. Federal police said they were also working to locate the pair.

And independent search parties were being organised by indigenous and environmental activists.

As the search continued, the sister of the missing journalist urged the Brazilian authorities “to do all they can” to find him.

What might have happened?

Investigators fear Phillips and Pereira may have deliberately targeted over their investigative work.

According to rights groups Univaja and OPI, the two men had “received threats in the field” last week.

“It wasn't the first time threats were made,” said the groups, who added that these threats had been reported to the police.

Pereira was a member of Funai, the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency, until 2019.

A Funai base in the region has also “come under attack on a number of occasions in recent years”, the BBC reported. The area "is home to more than 20 indigenous groups, who have denounced activities by illegal miners, fishers and hunters”.


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