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Sônia Guajajara, the head of Brazil’s largest indigenous organization, was put under investigation last month over social media campaigns raising awareness of the threat of Covid-19 to the country's indigenous people. (Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/ Getty Images)

Sônia Guajajara, the head of Brazil’s largest indigenous organization, was put under investigation last month over social media campaigns raising awareness of the threat of Covid-19 to the country's indigenous people. (Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/ Getty Images)

Indigenous Rights Defenders Condemn Government Probe Into Critics of Bolsonaro's Covid Response

A federal judge denounced an investigation into two Indigenous leaders as "an illegal embarrassment."

Julia Conley

Investigations opened last month into two Indigenous leaders in Brazil were closed this week after a federal judge denounced the government's actions as an "illegal embarrassment," but the think tank Política por Inteiro said President Jair Bolsonaro has created "an environment of violence" against Indigenous people.

"These are not isolated cases: others have been summoned by the police in similar circumstances," Natalie Unterstell, the founder of the think tank, told The Guardian Thursday. "It is important to note that levels of civic freedom are going down in Brazil."

Groups including Global Witness and Amazon Watch have expressed support for Sônia Guajajara, the head of Brazil's largest Indigenous organization, and influential Indigenous activist Almir Suruí on social media in recent days. 

Guajajara, who heads the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), and Suruí were put under investigation last month over Indigenous social media campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Covid-19 in their communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. A documentary series produced by Guajajara accused the government of "genocide" for failing to protect indigenous people.

According to APIB, as of March there had been more than 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 900 deaths among Indigenous communities. 

Brazil has seen one of the world's worst outbreaks of the virus, exacerbated by Bolsonaro's dismissal of Covid-19 as "a little flu" and his refusal to follow or promote public health protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing despite the fact that he contracted the disease last year. More than 428,000 people in Brazil have died of Covid-19 as of Thursday. 

Attempts by Guajajara, Suruí, and their communities to mitigate what Doctors Without Borders called a "humanitarian catastrophe" were met with harassment by FUNAI, the Brazilian agency tasked with protecting the Indigenous population, Guajajara said. The agency accused the leaders of spreading "fake news."

"It is scary to receive a subpoena from the police for a complaint made by FUNAI itself," Guajajara told The Guardian. "This is unprecedented. It is Bolsonaro's new FUNAI, which has completely reversed its role of protecting Indigenous peoples."

Guajajara also called the investigation "an attempt at intimidation and to avoid revealing the [government's] inaction" in response to the pandemic.

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