Brazilian opposition figures and human rights observers are seething after a photo emerged of the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, grinning and giving the thumbs up alongside a man arrested in connection with the murder of the Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco.
It was the second time the president has been photographed alongside a suspect in Brazil’s most high-profile political murder in a decade.
In March, a photo of Bolsonaro with Élcio Vieira de Queiroz, a former policeman accused of driving the car used in Franco’s killing, circulated on social media.
Queiroz’s arrest appeared to support suspicion that Franco had been targeted by the paramilitary gangs known as “militias” that control large swaths of Rio and are usually made up of or commanded by active or retired police officers.
“Another [suspect] who has a photo with the president. Bolsonaro’s relations with the militias need to be urgently investigated,” tweeted Guilherme Boulos, a leftwing politician.
The journalist Glenn Greenwald, a friend of Franco, tweeted: “None of this means Bolsonaro was involved in Marielle’s assassination. That is unlikely. But it shows how intertwined, multi-pronged & close are the Bolsonaro Family’s ties to militias.”
Franco, a popular socialist councillor and rising star in Rio politics who fought against police brutality in the city’s favelas, was killed last year with her driver Anderson Gomes when a gunman sprayed the car they were driving in.
Josinaldo Lucas Freitas, a martial arts instructor, was arrested on Thursday. He is accused of disposing of the guns used in the murder by throwing them in the sea.
— VEJA (@VEJA) October 3, 2019
“This demands an answer,” said Antônio Carlos Costa, founder of the Rio NGO Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace). “The president must explain to the public what kind of relationship he had with this guy.”
Three others were also arrested on Thursday morning, including the wife of Ronnie Lessa; a former special forces police captain and alleged leader of a gang of contract killers.
Lessa is accused of firing the fatal shots and is awaiting trial in a federal prison.
But it remains unclear who ordered the assassination.
“We continue to follow the development of the investigations and, still, with great concern about the delay in discovering the intellectual authors of the crime,” Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, wrote in a press note.