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Brazilian Indian Chief Spared Jail for 2002 Murder

Brazil’s Higher Court of Justice (STJ) on June 29 allowed the chief of the Pataxó People, Joel Braz, to be kept in preventive custody in the indigenous station which is closest to his village, located in the Pascoal Mount region, in the south tip of the state of Bahia, northeast region of Brazil.

The decision is based on the Brazilian Statute of Indigenous Peoples, which provides for the possibility of indigenous people serving prison "where the federal agency in charge of assisting indigenous people closest to their place of residence is located" (article 56).

The chief is accused of a murder in December 2002 and the case is being dealt with as a common crime. The Pataxó community, however, says that the death of the farm employee occurred as a result of a land dispute.

In the late 1990s, the Pataxó reoccupied the Pascoal Mount Park and continue to fight for the right to occupy areas neighboring the park and for the full demarcation of their lands.

The defense attorneys of Joel Braz had requested, in the habeas corpus they presented, that the case should be judged by a federal court.

"State courts are not entitled to judge this homicide because it was not caused by a momentary quarrel, but rather by a land dispute between indigenous people and farmers," said lawyer Paulo Machado Guimarães, in an oral defense of his arguments before the STJ.

The request was not granted, but justices Gilson Dipp and Arnaldo Lima said that it could still be granted if the connection between the crime and the land dispute is confirmed. This change may be considered in the light of the new situation related to the proceedings, after which it is expected to advance.

The decision of the rapporteur, justice Laurita Vaz of the 5th STJ Panel, partially granted the requests of the defense attorneys of Joel Braz and was accepted by all the other justices attending the session.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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