São Paulo, April 27, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Brazilian authorities to drop anti-state charges against Felipe de Oliveira Araújo Rodrigues, a Rio de Janeiro-based journalist who infiltrated a Brazilian group of supporters of the Islamic State militant group in 2016 to report on their activities.
Prosecutors in the indictment, which was issued on January 18, accused de Oliveira of “promoting the terrorist organization Islamic State,” and said the journalist sustained contact with several people who “glorified” the Islamic State militant group in WhatsApp and Telegram messaging channels.
A Paraná judge, Marcos Josegrei da Silva, accepted the case on February 16, 2018, and has the authority to throw it out or bring it to trial, according to a Public Ministry spokesperson who declined to be named per procedure.
De Oliveira, who said that he cooperated with authorities’ investigations into the militant group after his articles were published, could face between five and eight years in prison under Brazil’s 2016 anti-terrorism law if he is found guilty.
“It is absurd that Brazilian authorities are equating reporting on supporters of the Islamic State militant group with active participation in this group,” said CPJ’s Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna from New York. “Investigative reporting is not a crime, and journalism is not terrorism. Authorities should immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against Felipe de Oliveira, and stop punishing him for reporting on an issue of public interest.”
De Oliveira began researching the militant group in early 2016 and his article on their attempts to recruit members in Brazil was published in Folha de S. Paulo, one of the country’s leading dailies, on March 3, 2016.
The journalist then went undercover using the pseudonym Abdu Khani to continue reporting and on July 22, 2016 he was invited to join their social media group, the journalist told CPJ.
On July 24, de Oliveira’s piece on the group’s activities aired on TV Globo’s top-rated Sunday night show “Fantástico.” The journalist told CPJ that he reported his findings on the group’s activities to federal police the same day.
De Oliveira said that he cooperated with the police’s anti-terrorism unit and continued to monitor the Islamic State group militants for several more weeks before abandoning the contacts for fear of exposure.
De Oliveira’s lawyer, Beno Brandão, told the CPJ that the journalist notified authorities about his work and handed over all the information they requested, including recordings and phone numbers for their investigation into the group’s activities in Brazil.
“He never had any intention of promoting the Islamic State,” Brandão said in a phone interview. “He wasn’t encouraging them. These are people who supported ISIS. They were not some blessed devotees of the church at a funeral service. He had to ask those questions. That’s what an investigative reporter does.”