Sister of slain Brazilian councilwoman calls for justice

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The sister of slain Brazilian councilwoman Marielle Franco on Monday expressed concern about the conservative new governor’s commitment to solving the case.

Ten months to the day since the slaying of Franco and her driver, sister Anielle Franco said Gov. Wilson Witzel’s recent actions as a candidate were “worrisome.” During last year’s campaign, Witzel participated in a rally where two other candidates showed off a street sign honoring Franco that they had broken.

“Of course, we are worried about this administration,” said Anielle Franco, sitting by mother Marinete Silva during an Amnesty International press conference. “Our current governor took part in that act of vandalism.”

The family and Amnesty officials said they had requested a meeting with Witzel, who took office Jan. 1.

Witzel has noted that he did not participate in the defacing of the sign and did not mention it in his speech that day. The former judge, a member of President Jair Bolsonaro’s party, ran on promises to crack down on crime, including by using sharpshooters to takeout suspects carrying automatic weapons.

Last week, Witzel said investigators were close to solving the Franco case, the latest of many officials to make claims of progress. To date, nobody has been arrested.

Franco, who was black and a lesbian, crusaded for black and gay causes. Hailing from Mare, one of Rio de Janeiro’s roughest neighborhoods, Franco also frequently criticized police violence. The city’s police force is one of the most lethal in the world.

Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were gunned down in their car in Rio on March 14 after Franco spoke at a meeting on empowering black women.

For many in Brazil, one of the world’s most unequal countries, Franco was a symbol of hope, in large part because such prominence for a black woman from a poor neighborhood was rare. Her slaying led to days of massive protests in Brazil and demonstrations in several other countries.

However, from the beginning, the case has been plagued by leaks, ranging from details of the shooting to names of people being investigated.

The name most frequently leaked since last year has been Rio de Janeiro councilman Marcello Siciliano, who has been accused of ties to paramilitary groups, called militias, that control large swaths of western Rio de Janeiro. Militias have traditionally been made up of former police, military officers and firefighters and have close connections with many local politicians.

Siciliano has testified several times, most recently this month, but has not been charged in the crime, and authorities have refused to publicly comment on the investigation.

In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Siciliano strongly denied involvement in Franco’s killing, and called her a “friend.”

Siciliano, 46, also denied involvement with militias and said he was the victim of a smear campaign to derail his political career. Elected to councilman in 2016, Siciliano said he planned to run for Congress last year until the accusations began.

In leaks to the press, Siciliano was implicated in the killing by a former police investigator convicted of forcing businessmen to pay bribes for services, one of militias’ main tactics in areas they control.

Audios were also leaked in which Siciliano allegedly spoke with militia members, in one case calling the man he is speaking with “brother.”

In the interview, Siciliano noted that Franco’s work was focused on sexual minorities, not on militias, and said it raised questions about what motive there may be.

He said he feared for his life, which had been turned upside down since the leaks began. For example, he said he was unable to visit Miami because his U.S. visa had been cancelled.

“I’m a dead man who is alive. They are trying to kill me with the same bullet as Marielle,” he said.


Associated Press writer Marcelo Silva de Sousa contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.