The Pulitzer Center joins journalism and human rights organizations in demanding that Brazilian authorities take every measure to find British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira, missing since early Sunday in a remote section of Brazil’s Amazonas state.
Jonathan Watts, the global environment editor for The Guardian and chair of the Amazon Advisory Committee of the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund, issued the following statement about Pereira and Phillips, a frequent contributor to The Guardian and a long-time friend.
"I urge the Brazilian authorities to step up the search for my colleague and friend Dom Phillips and the Brazilian indigenista Bruno Pereira, who have gone missing in a dangerous region of the Amazon after receiving death threats.
"Dom is one of the sharpest and most caring journalists I know. He has spent two decades in Brazil and loves the country he has covered as a freelance contributor for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Intercept, and many others. In recent years, his focus on the Amazon has intensified and he is currently taking a year off from his freelance work to research and write a book on the threats facing the rainforest.
"He is brave, but careful, which makes me extremely concerned that he has not checked in as planned for more than 30 hours. Dom was passing through an area of the Javari Valley, famous for illegal logging and land grabbing. He was accompanying Bruno Pereira, an experienced expert on Indigenous issues who works for Brazilian government's National Indian Foundation (Funai) and the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Unijava). Pereira has recently received death threats and the local police are aware that there are gunmen in the region who want to kill him.
"The full details of what we know are in the attached statement. But there are gaps in our knowledge and slow action in searching for the missing men. Two search missions have been conducted by Unijava, but they found nothing. The authorities have been informed, and there are reports that they will dispatch the army and navy, but at this time of writing, they have yet to dispatch resources to the area.
"Every second counts in the rainforest. If Dom and Bruno were injured in an accident or captured by criminals, they will need support urgently. It is still possible that they are fine and I hope they will emerge from the forest astonished by the fuss that has been made about them, but with every passing minute I grow more worried.
"All rainforests can be dangerous. But the Brazilian Amazon has become riskier for environmental guardians and reporters in recent years as criminal activity becomes more commonplace and tolerated by the central government and many local authorities. Two years ago, a Funai employee from the Javari Valley was murdered, but nobody was punished.
"Let us do everything in our power to ensure Dom and Bruno are found as soon as possible. As rainforest journalists, what happened to them could happen to any of us."
Jon Sawyer, executive director of the Pulitzer Center, noted that news of the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira comes as nearly 100 journalists from around the world are gathering this week in Washington, D.C., for the Pulitzer Center’s annual conference, with the rainforest crisis a primary focus.
“We join so many others in praying that Phillips and Pereira are safe, and that they will be reunited soon with family and friends,” Sawyer said. “We insist that the Brazilian government deploy every resource toward finding them—and that it stop the incitement of violence and illegal activities in the rainforest region.”