Family members of the sole person to be arrested in the disappearance of a British journalist and Indigenous official in the Amazon said he was innocent and alleged that authorities were trying to force a confession. Freelance journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were last seen on Sunday morning in the Javari Valley, Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory, which sits in an isolated area bordering Peru and Colombia. The two men were in the Sao Rafael community.
They were returning by boat to the nearby city of Atalaia do Norte but never arrived. The claims of the family of fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pelado, were the latest development in a disappearance that has garnered international attention, a search involving several agencies and criticism of Brazilian authorities for an allegedly slow response.
The family’s claims, made to The Associated Press, also come a day after witnesses told the AP things about de Oliveira that the family denies. De Oliveira was arrested on Tuesday at his home in the Sao Gabriel riverine community, close to where the pair went missing on Sunday.
He was initially arrested for illegal gun possession, but police have since said he was now being considered a suspect in the disappearance and was being held at a police station in Atalaia do Norte. Osenei da Costa de Oliveira, 41, also a fisherman, said on Friday he had visited his brother in jail.
“He told me he was at his house when they handcuffed him,” said Osenei da Costa de Oliveira, speaking outside the police station where his brother is being held. “Then they put him on a boat under the sun and began to travel to Atalaia do Norte. When they reached the Curupira rivulet, they put him on another boat. Then they beat him, tortured him, waterboarded him, stepped on his leg and pepper-sprayed his face. They also drugged him twice, but I don’t know what they used.”
“They wanted him to confess but he’s innocent,” Osenei da Costa de Oliveira added.
The public security secretariat of Amazonas state, which oversees local police, said in a statement it will not comment on the family’s accusations because the investigation into the disappearance was now being handled by the Federal Police.
The mother of Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, Maria de Fatima da Costa, said she was at the Atalaia do Norte port when her son arrived with police. He was taken from the boat wearing a hood, could barely walk on his own and was soaking wet, she said.
“I told the police he was not a criminal to be treated like that,” she told the AP. She also said that blood that police have said was found in her son’s boat was likely from a pig he had killed a few days before being arrested. Authorities have said the blood was being analysed at a lab.
The family said de Oliveira does not have a criminal record and his only previous brush with law enforcement was once being detained for a few hours under an unfounded suspicion he was transporting drugs.
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