Priest contests charges related to efforts to help Amazon's landless
Fr. José Amaro emerged from a hearing in a courthouse in Anapu in the Brazilian state of Pará on March 13, after defending himself against charges of eight crimes related to land occupation levied by local police, state prosecutors and large landowners two years ago when his legal nightmare began.
Amaro has denied any illegal activities in his efforts to help landless people in the Amazon region, a ministry he continued after the 2005 assassination of Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang, with whom he had worked.
"While presenting my defense, I knew you all were here waiting for me and this gave me extra strength," Amaro said to the 50 rural workers and religious who stood outside the courthouse for almost four hours.
Restrictions on Amaro's freedom will continue until the final sentence, which should be issued between the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020. He faces eight charges, including extortion, money laundering, criminal association and trespassing, brought by Silvério Albano Fernandes, then-president of the Union of Rural Producers.
Amaro's supporters say the charges are politically motivated, a fabrication by wealthy landowners meant to discredit him and cripple his efforts to help landless farmers exercise their rights.