A People’s Advocate in Danger

[Following is a statment issued by some civil liberties groups, democrats and advocates of Brazil to save Ermogenes J DeSouza’s life]

Dr Ermogenes Jacinto de Souza is a well-known People's Advocate and a member of Brazilian Association of People's Lawyers. He has spent his professional life defending the poor peasants who have struggled for their legitimate right to have lands in the State of Rondonia, in Brazilian Amazon. This area of Brazil has witnessed significant number of murders planned, ordered and executed by Landlord or their mercenaries. No one forgets the murder of Renato Nathans, a teacher and Elcio Machado, Gilson Gonsalves peasants and dozens of others. The Landlords commit these atrocities and criminal acts due to lack of rule of law and accountability in the State of Rondonia. Murder, with total impunity is the fact of life in Rondonia. The State authorities have failed to act. The Judiciary including prosecutors and police have been busy dancing to the Landlord's tunes. They are institutionally corrupt and server and assist the landlords to continue their land grabbing strategies.

Dr Ermogenes was threatened and severely restricted in performing his duties as a lawyer. The landlords' armed mercenaries constantly threatened him. The Judiciary, civil servants and member of the police forces in the State of Rondonia repeatedly denied his legal request such as access, to his clients, disclosure of evidence and police reports and legal files and papers. They literally obstructed him from exercising his duties as a lawyer. He was prevented from representing more 20 poor peasants who had been detained for indicating legal actions against the landlords in the region of Rondonia.

Dr Ermogenes became extremely vulnerable over the past three months. He established certain facts regarding the state corruption and the police collusion with the landlords. He found out that specific members of the Military Police Edelvan Moura da Silva (nicknamed Zeca Urubu), Andrade Kenio Fonseca (nicknamed Fonseca) and Fernando Alencar Larios, had been doing private work for the landowner Nadir Jordan dos Reis. It was revealed these officers were involved in the confiscations and land possession against the poor peasants. He was informed that these three officers were recently convicted of torture (Proc. N. 0003343-69.2011.8.22.0021, district of Buritis-RO). In spite of this they are still active members of the military police. Dr Ermogenes received a death threat from Edelvan. He was literally warned that he could be eliminated at any time, unless he ceased his activities against Mr Reis or any of the other landowners in the region of the city of Ariquemes.

Dr Ermogenes brought actions and made official complaints to the 'National Agrarian Ombudsman' chaired by Gercino Jose da Silva Filho, and at the same time in the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency, chaired by Minister Ideli Salvati. The atrocities such as unlawful arrest, torture, against the peasants, repeated shooting incidents and police actions against those peasants who complained to the Police were clearly raised and addressed in the 'National Commission for Combating Violence in the Field' during the meeting on July 22, 2014, in Porto Velho, with the presence of the Chief of Agrarian Civil Police, Lucena Vinicius Tavares Bastos, and the Attorney Raphael Bevilacqua.

On another recent occasion, Dr Ermogenes was unjustly admonished by Judge Alex Balmant, from the 1st Criminal Court in the case involved 14 peasants unjustly convicted for conspiracy. This judge repeated insinuations brought by the police that Dr Ermogenes allegedly urged the poor peasants to occupy land. This is a clear violation of professional prerogatives according the Statute of Advocacy. Dr Ermogenes also noted that the police started a new campaign of persecution, undermining his professional reputation by spreading wild and baseless allegations against him whenever he represented peasants who took actions against forced evictions of their lands and wrongful arrests of their fellow peasants.

Since 2000, when Dr Ermogenes began his professional work in that region, he had been subjected to restriction, obstructions, in his professional work. He had been receiving constant death threats from the landowners and their gunmen. In his report, he outlined the details of his persecution orchestrated by landowners Nadir Jordan dos Reis, Jorge Chaparini, Dilson Caldato, Jose de Oliveira Heringer, Cataneo and Antonio Martins dos Santos (nicknamed Galo Velho, business owner of Leme Ventures Ltd company that was mentioned in the Report of Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Public Lands in the Amazon region).

Ermogenes stated that Mr Chaparini already insulted and threatened him with death. At another point, some armed gunmen who work for Mr Chaparini had tried to kidnap him in Porto Velho Court office. To avoid being kidnapped by the gang, Dr Ermogenes managed to escape unharmed when he climbed the Court office wall. He reported that he had faced many difficulties in the Porto Velho Court office because the landlord Jose de Oliveira Heringer, who is also a lawyer, has an office in the same court. In 2008, Mr Heringer invited Dr Ermogenes to his office to deal with a case where both were involved. When Dr Ermogenes reached the office, he noticed that another landlord, Dilson Caldato, (Mr Heringer's client) was waiting for him with some of his armed men.

Dr Ermogenes clearly states in his report that he cannot work in free and safe environment in Porto Velho and Buriti Court offices (two cities in the state of Rondonia). He cannot work in his office due to the fact that Heringer's, employers informed the landlord of his presence in the office whenever he attends his office. In addition to this, he further stated that he has been under surveillance by The Federal Police and his phones been tapped without judicial authorization.

Dr Ermogenes has been recently investigated for a false allegation of racketeering by Helio Vieira, a landlord and former President of the 'Lawyers Association of Rondonia'. This charge was later filed without any further action. He further stated that the Chief of Civil Police of Porto Velho, Antonio Garcao Sobral, who is also a landowner and Helio Vieira's neighbour of Helio Vieira, has been involved in fabricating this false accusation.

Dr Ermogenes' life is on stake. Urgent national and international actions are required to stand and defend the right of those who defend the defenceless and poor oppressed people.

Vol. 47, No. 15, Oct 19 - 25, 2014