Latin America & Caribbean

Amazon murders: Two convicted of 2011 Brazil killings

Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo in a file photo from earlier this year
Image caption The couple had lived in the Amazon area for many years

A judge in Brazil has found two men guilty of the murder in 2011 of two activists in the Amazon rainforest.

The men were sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. A third man accused of masterminding the attack was acquitted.

Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva, were shot dead in a forest reserve in the northern state of Para.

The couple were known for campaigning against illegal logging in the Amazon and had faced numerous threats.

The police said the couple had been opposing the eviction of rural workers from land owned by a local farmer.

The farmer was found not guilty of arranging the killings by the judge in Maraba in northern Brazil on Thursday.

However, two other men - Alberto Lopes do Nascimento and Lindonjonson Silva Rocha - were imprisoned for 45 years and 42 years respectively.

At the time of the murder, police said two gunmen hid in the forest early in the morning and shot the couple as they slowed down to cross a bridge on a motorbike.

The campaigners had lived in the town of Nova Ipixuna for 18 years.

A sister of Mr Silva, Claudelice Silva, told Globo TV in Brazil that they had many enemies.

"There were a lot of people who wanted them dead because they constantly denounced environmental crimes," she said.

Local authorities say they often reported on the illegal activities of loggers and cattle ranchers in the region.

The Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, ordered a federal police investigation at the time, and the authorities promised to increase protection for environmental activists most at risk.

A group that keeps a tally of land-related threats and deaths, the Catholic Land Pastoral, said last month that illegal logging and the resulting conflicts were responsible for most of the 32 murders of local activists last year.

It said most of the murders were carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests over illegal logging and land rights in the Amazon rainforest.

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