SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 06, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Federal University of Paraíba

Region & Country:Americas | Brazil

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 6, 2020, Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB) student Clayton Tomaz de Souza reportedly went missing and two days later was found dead. Available evidence suggests that his disappearance was linked to his years of vocal criticism of private security personnel contracted by UFPB.

De Souza, a 31-year-old student of philosophy, held several leadership positions during his time at UFPB, including as general coordinator of UFPB’s Central Directory of Students and as president of the Academic Center for Philosophy. He was also reportedly involved in various internal review committees at UFPB.

On February 8, two days after his disappearance, de Souza’s body was found outside the city of João Pessoa, on a site where locals say so-called “death squads” deposit bodies of their victims. A police autopsy indicated that de Souza had been shot in the back of the head.

Police have not publicly identified a suspect as of this report. However, de Souza’s killing follows an intensification in his public criticism of the university’s security guards, according to media sources and testimony from classmates and UFPB personnel.

In 2016, De Souza began filing complaints about the university’s outsourced security personnel to UFPB administration, alleging that guards harassed and used physical violence against UFPB students, including himself. According to one of de Souza’s complaints, security guards pointed a gun at him and another student during a student occupation of UFPB’s rectory.

Since 2016, state authorities have launched investigations into UFPB’s security personnel based on de Souza’s complaints. The most recent of such investigations began in September 2019. Authorities have not disclosed the details of that investigation. However, de Souza was reportedly scheduled to offer witness testimony shortly before his disappearance.

Additional reporting on the circumstances of de Souza’s death center around his recent social media commentary. In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, de Souza had reportedly posted over social media that UFPB’s campus security officers had been harassing him. On January 27, de Souza said in a video published over social media, “If I am to be found dead, there are no other possible suspects: I died by the hands of UFPB’s security officers.” Authorities investigating the killing of de Souza are reportedly reviewing this and other social media content, and will interview UFPB security personnel. At UFPB, a commission comprised of students, faculty, and administrators has been established to carry out their own investigation.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned by the apparently targeted killing of a university student and offers condolences to the victim’s family, friends, and the university community. State and university authorities have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent and respond to such attacks, including by investigating and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such attacks undermine the safety of higher education communities, the right to education, academic freedom, and democratic society generally.