Brazilian prosecutors charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald Tuesday with “cybercrimes” for his reporting last year on leaked cellphone messages that cast doubt on the impartiality of a corruption investigation that helped pave the way for the rise of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
In a criminal complaint filed in the capital, Brasilia, prosecutors accused Greenwald of being a member of a “criminal organization” that allegedly hacked the cellphones of several public officials and copied messages that were then published last year on Greenwald’s news site the Intercept Brazil.
Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, has published several investigations based on leaked messages alleging that the public corruption investigation into former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was tainted.
The Intercept Brazil reported allegations that the judge who’d overseen Lula’s case, Sérgio Moro, had colluded with prosecutors to convict him. After Bolsonaro’s election, he appointed Brazil’s justice minister. Greenwald told The Washington Post last year that the messages were given to him by a person he would not identify.
Greenwald denied wrongdoing Tuesday in a statement to the Daily Beast.
“Less than two months ago, the Federal Police, examining all the same evidence cited by the Public Ministry, stated explicitly that not only have I never committed any crime but that I exercised extreme caution as a journalist never even to get close to any participation,” he said. “Even the Federal Police under Minister Moro’s command said what is clear to any rational person: I did nothing more than do my job as a journalist – ethically and within the law.”
He called the charges “an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government. … We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists.”
The conviction and imprisonment of the leftist da Silva fed a wave of discontent that contributed to the election of Bolsonaro, a populist former congressman and military officer who has appealed to nationalism, homophobia and nostalgia for Brazil’s former military dictatorship.
Sometimes called “the Trump of the tropics,” Bolsonaro has frequently attacked the news media as part of his anti-establishment rhetoric.
The charges against Greenwald have alarmed Brazilian journalists and press-freedom advocates, who see the case as a test for the media.”Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of Brazilian journalists, but I believe a majority would agree with me in saying the charges against Greenwald are an attempt to intimidate him and by extension the practice of independent journalism in Brazil,” said Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, a veteran Brazilian journalist who is a professor at the Insper university in Sao Paulo.
Caio Tulio Costa, the former editor and ombudsman of Folha de Sao Paulo, one Brazil’s leading daily newspapers, said the charges are “yet another case of violence practiced by the Brazilian State. … A journalist has the duty and the right to speak to his sources, whoever they may be, and this is part of the soul of the profession. Inadmissible on all counts. Our democracy is in danger.”
Brazilian author and journalist Eugenio Bucci said the accusations against Greenwald could violate Brazil’s constitutional guarantee of confidentiality between sources and journalists. “More than that, it appears as a threat against all journalists,” he said. “It is a clear menace against freedom of press.”
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, called on the U.S. government to condemn “this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognize that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad.”
Natalie Southwick, the coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Central and South Americas program, called the charges “cause for concern.”
“Charging a journalist with criminal activity based on interactions with sources sends a chilling message to reporters working on sensitive stories at a time when the Brazilian media is increasingly under attack from officials in its own government.”
Greenwald also denounced Brazil’s president: “The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms.”