Federal prosecutors in Brazil charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald Tuesday with cybercrimes for his role in the spreading of cellphone messages that have embarrassed the government, reports the New York Times.
Greenwald, who became a household name for his involvement in the Edward Snowden leaks, responded in a statement, “The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms—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, an attorney-turned-journalist who has long been a free-speech advocate, has found himself at the center of the first major test of press freedom under Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, 2019 and has openly expressed nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship — a period when newspapers were censored and some journalists tortured.
“It’s a very concerning moment for press freedom in Brazil, especially those covering something so divisive as politics. We’ve seen an administration that vocally criticizes journalists with an open anti-press rhetoric,” said Natalie Southwick, the Central and South American program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Greenwald’s The Intercept news website published in 2019 text messages purportedly showing then-judge and now Justice Minister Sergio Moro had improperly advised prosecutors in the corruption trial that jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The Intercept also alleged political bias by Moro and prosecutors in a sweeping corruption investigation that brought down many of the country’s business and political elite and turned Moro into a hero to many. The website said it got the leaked messages from an anonymous source and that it has “vast archive” of information it has not released.
Moro has dismissed its reports as sensationalist and said a “criminal group” was aiming to invalidate convictions handed down when he was a crusading anti-corruption judge. He later tweeted that The Intercept was “a site aligned with criminal hackers.”
The reports infuriated Bolsonaro’s backers.
As for The Intercept’s reporting, Bolsonaro has defended his justice minister, saying what Moro did for Brazil as an anti-corruption judge was “priceless.”
“We don’t know ... how far they’re willing to go to fulfill this authoritarian vision that Bolsonaro has spent the last 30 years advocating,” Greenwald told The Associated Press in July 2019, referring the president’s record in congress.
“They were elected based on a promise to change Brazil in multiple ways, including eroding core freedoms that a democracy requires in order to survive — and one of those is a free press,” said Greenwald.
While provincial journalists sometimes face grave dangers in Brazil — two owners of local media outlets were recently shot and killed in a coastal town outside Rio de Janeiro — the federal government in recent decades has rarely tried to stifle reporters. One exception was when then-President da Silva briefly tried to deport New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter in 2004 after a report that suggested he drank heavily.
Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, is now accompanied by private security guards and says he and other staff at The Intercept have received sophisticated, detailed death threats that sometimes include private personal information.
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