Brazil court suspends probe against indigenous leader

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


A Brazilian court Wednesday ordered the Federal Police to suspend a probe into Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader accused of "slandering" President Jair Bolsonaro for criticizing his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis.

The legal complaint against the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) and its leader Guajajara -- accusing it of "a campaign of slander and defamation" -- was brought by FUNAI, the government's indigenous affairs office.

"It is important to note the clear mention" in FUNAI's official letter of the alleged slander "suggests that the main purpose of this entire situation is to silence" critics of the federal government, read the ruling by federal judge Frederico de Barros Viana.

Guajajara, 47, earlier said that she had been summoned by the Federal Police "in connection with an investigation into the Maraca series." The series, available on the APIB website, is part of a pro-indigenous people campaign supported by some 200 celebrities.

Guajajara comes from Arariboia indigenous land in northeastern Maranhao, and rose to prominence as a defender of native rights.

"Victory for the original peoples!" the APIB said in a statement, adding that the probe was an attempt to "criminalize the indigenous movement."

The APIB has accused the government of a "genocide" of native peoples during the pandemic, which it estimates has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 native people.

Bolsonaro has come under mounting criticism for his handling of the pandemic after repeatedly minimizing it and mocking efforts to contain it.

Other Bolsonaro critics have been interrogated by police in recent months, part of what one newspaper called an "intimidation campaign" by the government.