It's been a deadly season for environmental activists and land defenders in Brazil

When villagers refused to let a timber exporter log on their land in a remote Amazon rainforest area of Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, the hit men were sent in.

When police finally arrived 24 hours later, slowed by poor communication in the region, they said they found the bodies of nine men, all shot or stabbed to death, many bearing signs of torture.

The slaughter of Brazilian environmental activists and land defenders has been unrelenting for years, with new research from the watchdog group Global Witness showing that 57 people in the country were killed last year in confrontations with ranchers, loggers, miners and poachers.

That total marks a steep increase from the 39 killed in 2005, the year that the plight of Brazilian land defenders first caught the world’s attention with the fatal shooting of Dorothy Stang, an American nun who became an environmental activist and human rights defender in the Amazon. Stang was shot six times by a pair of gunmen. A rancher was ultimately convicted of ordering her death.

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