Authorities in the Brazilian Amazon have arrested a man in connection with the disappearance of a British journalist and an Indigenous advocate as calls grew for swift action in the case that has shocked the media and environmental worlds.
Police in the far west of Brazil said on Wednesday that they had four detained witnesses and one suspect in connection with the disappearance of Dom Phillips, a longtime Guardian contributor, and Bruno Araújo Pereira, an advocate for Indigenous people.
The suspect was named as Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, the officer in the case said, without giving any details of his arraignment.
Da Costa goes by the nickname Pelado and was reported to have threatened Phillips and Pereira and a group of 13 Indigenous people on Saturday morning.
A witness to the encounter told the Guardian that Da Costa and two other armed men threatened the group while they were stopped at the side of the Itaquaí river in Amazonas state.
Da Costa’s boat was later seized by police.
Pereira, 41, a longtime advocate of the Indigenous tribes in a vast and remote jungle areahad received death threats for his work helping protect Indigenous groups from drug traffickers and illegal miners, loggers and hunters who covet land in a region rich with natural resources.
He and Phillips were last seen on Sunday morning while traveling by boat through the Javari region of Amazonas state. They were returning from a two-day reporting trip but did not arrive as scheduled at the town of Atalaia do Norte.
Phillips, 57, was in the region researching a book on sustainable development there. He received a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation to write the book, and was aiming to finish it by the end of this year.
His wife Alessandra Sampaio made an emotional appeal for authorities to speed up their search on Tuesday and as the case hit the headlines in Brazil, personalities from the sporting and arts worlds joined in.
The Everton and Brazil forward Richarlison retweeted Sampaio’s emotional video and Walter Casagrande, a former Brazilian player who is now a well-known sports broadcaster, made his own appeal, as did singer Gaby Amarantos and Sonia Guajajara, an Indigenous leader who was recently one of Time magazine’s most chosen people of 2022.
Further field, the US climate, envoy John Kerrysaid he would look into the case.
In Britain, the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, urged Brazilian authorities “to do all they can find them as soon as possible and for the Foreign Office to use all the diplomatic channels at its disposal”.
There is considerable anger over the lack of urgency shown by Brazilian authorities, and particularly the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The search has been set by delays and contradictory statements by Brazilian military officials in charge of the region.
In the first 24 hours after their disappearance was reported, the army said it was awaiting orders before mobilising.
The navy then said it was dispatching a helicopter and two boats, before the army. Finally said it had employed jungle specialists in its search.
Bolsonaro showed little sympathy in his first comments on Monday, calling their trip “an adventure that was not recommended”.
“Anything could happen,” he said. “It could be an accident, it could be they’ve been executed. We ask God that they are found soon. The armed forces are working hard in the region.”