Despite Supreme Court Order, Brazil Prosecutors Charge US Scribe Glenn Greenwald With Cybercrime

The journalist's investigations cast doubts on the impartiality of former judge Sérgio Moro in corruption investigation, 'Operation Car Wash', that led to jailing of several figures, including former president Lula.

New Delhi: Brazilian prosecutors have charged US journalist Glenn Greenwald with being part of a “criminal organisation” that allegedly hacked into phones – and which orchestrated the leak of a trove of electronic messages showing the partisan role of an anti-corruption task force.

The prosecutors went ahead with the charges against Greenwald despite a Supreme Court order barring federal police from investigating the journalist’s role in dissemination of the hacked messages.

Greenwald, who is based in Brazil, is particularly well-known for his reporting of documents describing surveillance programmes of the US’s National Security Agency, which had been leaked by former contractor, Edward Snowden. 

The articles, published by Intercept Brasil last year, cast doubts on the impartiality of former judge Sérgio Moro and other prosecutors involved in corruption investigation, ‘Operation Car Wash’, that led to jailing of several important figures, including former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula’s conviction led to the rise and election of Jair Bolsonaro, who subsequently made Moro his minister of justice.

At the time of publishing the articles, Intercept had said that the stories were based on archives of “audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation” provided by an anonymous source.

“They reveal serious wrongdoing, unethical behaviour, and systematic deceit about which the public, both in Brazil and internationally, has the right to know,” The Intercept had said on June 10, 2019.

According to BBC, while the federal public prosecutors have proposed the charges, a judge has to still decide whether to formally indict him or not.

Associated Press noted in its report that Supreme Court’s order last year that “constitutional secrecy” around sources used in journalism had so far prevented the government from taking “coercive measures against Greenwald”. 

“Because of that, a judge would have to authorise any attempt by prosecutors to formally investigate the journalist or bring charges. Judge Ricardo Leite will analyse the unusual accusation against Greenwald and the group of six alleged hackers. There is no deadline for a decision,” AP reported.

Besides Greenwald, six other individuals have also been accused of illegal telephone interceptions and conspiracy, among other related crimes.

Prosecutors claim that Greenwald played a “clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime”. They citied alleged intercepted messages that showed Greenwald reportedly encouraging hackers to delete archives shared with the media group, reported The New York Times. They also stated that Greenwald was communicating with the hackers, while they were actively monitoring private chats on the messaging app Telegram.

In a statement released through Intercept, Greenwald described the charges as “an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government”. He pointed out that the charges were brought by the same prosecutor, Wellington Divino Marques de Oliveira, who tried to criminally prosecute the head of the Brazilian Bar Association for criticising Moro.

Also read: A Convenient Crash? Death of a Judge in Brazil May Kill ‘Operation Car Wash’

“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists,” Greenwald added.

The Intercept pointed out that that evidence cited by the Brazilian Public Ministry is the “same that was rigorously analysed by the country’s Federal Police, leading the agency to conclude that Greenwald did not commit any crimes in his contacts with the alleged source of our Secret Brazil Archive stories”.

“Glenn Greenwald was not formally investigated by the Federal Police, but they concluded that there was no indication of wrongdoing committed by him,” the statement said.

Following the publication of the reports, Bolsonaro had asserted publicly in July 2018 that Greenwald “might wind up in jail”.

According to Washington Post, Greenwald’s case “is seen as a test for freedom of journalists under Bolsonaro, a right-wing former military officer elected last year while appealing to nationalism, homophobia, nostalgia for Brazil’s previous military dictatorship and attacking the media.”

As per Times, Greenwald said that he had been methodical in his dealings with the source who gave him the leaked chats, mindful of the lessons he had learned in the Snowden case. “The one thing I could not do is give direction,” Greenwald said.

That’s crossing a line. I was very careful.”

Along with Lula, Snowden too tweeted against the charges against Greenwald.

Several US lawmakers have also expressed deep concern about the Brazilian prosecutors’ intention to bring charges against Greenwald.

The US civil society group, ACLU said that US government must “immediately condemn this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognise that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad, like Glenn Greenwald”.

The San Francisco-based Freedom of the Press foundation called on the Brazilian government to halt the prosecution and respect press freedom, as the Brazilian Supreme Court has already ordered them to do.In the meantime, we dearly hope Glenn is safe and is able to continue doing his job as a journalist,” the statement said.

Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, who is also a lawmaker, welcomed the charges with a sarcastic tweet.