Glenn Greenwald’s Prosecution in Brazil Raises Press Freedom Concerns

Two weeks ago, American journalist Glenn Greenwald was charged with “cybercrimes,” by the Brazilian government. Press advocates have criticized the charges as “an outrage” and “a clear threat to press freedom.”

Last year, Greenwald was part of a team that published articles exposing private conversations with  Sérgio Moro, a former federal judge. Moro was in charge of a high-profile corruption case, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” which saw the conviction of certain business elites and politicians, including the former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—arguably Brazil’s most popular politician. The articles, published by The Intercept Brazil, show Moro, the judge in the case, collaborating with prosecutors. The investigative team said that Moro, “offered strategic advice to prosecutors and passed on tips for new avenues of investigation.”

After Moro’s conversations were published, the federal police began investigating Greenwald’s finances. That inquiry was then blocked by a supreme court judge, on the grounds that publishing stolen information was not illegal. President Jair Bolsonaro then said Greenwald might face “jail time,” for marrying a Brazilian to avoid deportation. 

The private conversations between Moro and Car Wash prosecutors were obtained by hacking a cell phone. The information from the phone conversations was then published by Greenwald and his team. Prosecutors now say that the journalist played a “clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime,” alleging that Greenwald communicated with the hackers while they engaged in the digital heist, The New York Times said. Prosecutors also allege that Greenwald told them to delete information they had shared with him so it would not be traced back.

“The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms,” Greenwald told the Daily Beast. “From Bolsonaro’s threats against Folha to his attacks on journalists that have incited violence to Sergio Moro’s threats from the start to classify us as ‘allies of the hackers’ for revealing his corruption.”

Greenwald has often been at odds with President Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who came to power, in part, because of da Silva’s conviction. 

Bolsonaro has a history of homophobia, once saying he would rather have a dead son than a gay one. Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, a city council member in Rio de Janeiro, said “we are the antithesis of Bolsonaro, we’re everything they hate.”

After the charges were filed, politicians and more than 40 press freedom and civil liberty groups came out against the prosecution.  

The president of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Rodrigo Maia, said the charges are “a threat to press freedom. Journalism is not a crime. Without free journalism there is no democracy.”

“Glenn Greenwald is our friend and long-time colleague, and he has bravely fought for journalistic freedom throughout his entire career,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. “These sham charges are a sickening escalation of the Bolsonaro administration’s authoritarian attacks on press freedom and the rule of law. 

Edward Snowden, who Greenwald assisted in publishing revelations about the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post where he outlined the similarities between the legal strategy Bolsonaro’s government is using against Greenwald and that which the Trump administration is using to prosecute Julian Assage. 

“[Greenwald and Assange’s] relentless crusades have rendered them polarizing figures (including, it may be noted, to each other),” Snowden wrote. “Some have been alienated by publishing information that powerful factions had concealed for political purposes, others by expressing heretical opinions on the most public platforms.” 

“It is likely that authorities in both countries believed the public’s fractured opinions of their perceived ideologies would distract the public from the broader danger these prosecutions pose to a free press,” he continued. 

In a statement, The Intercept expressed their gratitude for the support they received from international press freedom activists. 

 “We are grateful for the solidarity of press freedom advocates around the world as Brazil’s democratic institutions face this profound test under President Bolsonaro, an authoritarian who sees nothing wrong with threatening a journalist for doing his job,” the statement read.  

“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists,” said Greenwald, in his official statement after the charges were filed. “I am working right now on new reporting and will continue to do so. Many courageous Brazilians sacrifice their liberty and even life for Brazilian democracy and against repression, and I feel an obligation to continue their noble work.”  


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