Rio de Janeiro, January 22, 2020–Brazilian authorities should immediately drop charges against Intercept Brasil co-founder and editor Glenn Greenwald and refrain from prosecuting journalists for their communication with sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 21, Federal Public Prosecutor Wellington Divino Marques de Oliveira filed a petition before the 10th Federal Court in Brasília, the capital, charging Greenwald with multiple crimes, including criminal association and invasion of an electronic device. In the same petition, the prosecutor charged six other individuals, all allegedly involved in efforts to hack devices and leak the communications of dozens of high-profile Brazilian targets, with the same crimes, according to the document, which CPJ has reviewed.
In June 2019, The Intercept Brasil, an independent investigative news outlet, began publishing a series of stories raising ethical and legal questions about the conduct of Sergio Moro, Brazil’s justice minister and a chief prosecutor in the “Operation Car Wash” corruption investigation. The outlet said its stories were based in part on private messages sent to its reporters anonymously. Later in 2019, a Supreme Court judge and Brazil’s Federal Police separately found that Greenwald should not be prosecuted in connection to the outlet’s receipt of the hacked private messages, according to documents from the court and the police as well as news reports.
“Charging Glenn Greenwald with criminal association for his communication with sources is a disproportionate abuse of power by Brazilian authorities and poses a threat to any investigative journalist,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Brazilian prosecutors should respect the findings of their own law enforcement officials and the decision of a Supreme Court judge, who have already determined Greenwald should not be investigated or prosecuted for his journalistic work, and drop these charges.”
According to the January 21 petition, Greenwald is charged with invasion of an electronic device (a crime under article 154-A of the Brazilian Criminal Code, punishable with three months to a year in prison plus a fine); promotion, constitution, financing, or being part of a criminal organization (a crime under article 2 of Law 12.850/2013, punishable with three to eight years of imprisonment plus a fine); and intercepting telephone, telematics or digital communications or breaking Justice secrecy without judicial authorization (a crime under article 10 of Law 9296/1996, punishable with two to four years in prison plus a fine).
After reporting on Operation Car Wash, Intercept Brasil staff reported receiving a number of threats, as CPJ reported in June 2019. In July, in response to the articles, President Jair Bolsonaro stated that Greenwald could “do jail time,” as CPJ documented at the time.
A December 18, 2019, report from the Federal Police on the investigation into the alleged hacking of Moro and other authorities’ mobile and communication devices–available in two parts from the Estado de São Paulo website (part 1 and part 2)–found no evidence of Greenwald’s participation in the alleged crimes. The report states that in the course of their investigation, the police found evidence that Greenwald adopted “a careful and distant behavior in relation to the execution of the invasions as well as the choice of eventual targets by the criminal.”
In a decision from August 7, 2019, Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes granted precautionary measures (“medidas cautelares”) to Greenwald and determined that he could not be investigated for obtaining the information used in his reporting related to Operation Car Wash, in accordance with the right of protection for journalistic sources.
In a January 21 press release, the Federal Prosecutor’s office stated that it respects the precautionary measures issued by Judge Mendes but, in the course of the analysis of a computer seized legally, the office had found recordings of a dialogue between Greenwald and another accused man. The statement also says that Greenwald, “unlike the argument presented by him, received the material of illicit origin while the criminal organization was still practicing the crimes.”
In response to CPJ’s phone call to the Federal Prosecutor’s office in Brasilia requesting comment, the press officer said the prosecutor is not giving interviews about the case, and directed CPJ to the January 21 press release.
In a statement published January 21, The Intercept said it viewed the charges as an attempt to criminalize its journalism and that it was “appalled” by the “blatantly politically motivated charge against Greenwald, in an apparent retaliation for The Intercept’s critical reporting on abuses committed by Justice Minister Moro and several federal prosecutors.”
In a public statement published by The Intercept, Greenwald stated that the charges against him were an “attack on the Brazilian Supreme Court, which ruled in July that I am entitled to have my press freedom protected in response to other retaliatory attacks from Minister Moro, and even an attack on the findings of the Federal Police, which concluded explicitly after a comprehensive investigation that I committed no crimes and solely acted as a journalist.”