UK director, indigenous group ambushed in Brazil

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A British director, two noted Brazilian Indigenous activists, and 13 others were ambushed by dozens of armed men accused of illegally occupying territory in an Indigenous reservation in the Brazilian Amazon, people involved said Wednesday.

In the latest episode underscoring the risks to those fighting to defend the world’s largest rainforest, respected Indigenous expert Neidinha Surui said she, her activist daughter Txai Surui, British filmmaker Heydon Prowse and Brazilian artist Thiago Mundano were held hostage for hours Sunday by some 50 men on the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous reservation in the northern state of Rondonia.

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In a “threatening tone,” the men -- who were carrying machetes, and also appeared to have concealed handguns -- insisted they be allowed to continue using the surrounding land, in violation of its status as a protected Indigenous reservation, Surui said.

“They knew who Txai and I were. They were clearly targeting us,” she said.

Prowse, whose latest project is about Mundano and his environmental activism, was filming with his crew and a group of Indigenous inhabitants, who were also taken hostage, Surui told AFP.

She said the victims had been ambushed and held for nearly four hours by the men, who surrounded them in a remote territory with no cell-phone reception.

“All indications are that this was planned well in advance,” added the 63-year-old activist, who has received death threats for her work defending the Amazon and its Indigenous peoples.

Surui filmed part of the incident with her phone. The video shows a large group of men surrounding her group. One of them warns a “tragedy” could happen if their demands are not met.

Prowse is an activist, journalist, comedian and director known for the Bafta-winning 2012 BBC satire show “The Revolution Will Be Televised.”

Surui and her daughter, both well-known activists for Brazilian Indigenous rights, collaborated on the 2022 National Geographic documentary “The Territory,” which follows the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people’s fight to protect their land from invasions by illegal loggers, miners and cattle ranchers.

Mundano is a self-described “artivist” known for his environmental work, notably painting with ashes from burnt Amazon trees.

Brazil is the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists and Indigenous activists, according to rights group Global Witness, which found last year that at least 342 of them had been killed in the past decade.

Surui and her group reported the ambush to federal police. The police did not immediately respond to questions from AFP.

Surui said she believed the incident could have turned violent if a foreign film crew had not been present.

She recalled the international media attention when British journalist Dom Phillips was murdered in the Amazon in June 2022 with Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.

“I think the fact we were with an English journalist saved us,” she said.

“We could all be dead.”

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