When Edward Snowden was an anonymous National Security Agency subcontractor with documents revealing the existence of global surveillance programs, Glenn Greenwald, then at The Guardian, was among the small group of journalists Snowden trusted to publish the documents in 2013.
The publication earned Greenwald a reputation as an outspoken defender of free speech and whistleblowers. He went on to co-found The Intercept, and then The Intercept Brasil, after moving to Brazil in 2005.
A staunch critic of Brazilian far-right president Jair Bolsanaro, Greenwald has been charged with cybercrimes by the Brazilian government, for his role in publishing articles based on text messages that, The New York Times says, “embarrassed prosecutors and tarnished the image of an anti-corruption task force.”
The Intercept Brasil’s articles questioned the integrity of the task force and the Brazilian judiciary as a whole, including Sérgio Moro, a former judge, and now Bolsanaro’s minister of justice. In addition, as The Daily Beast explains, “The messages implicated Brazilian prosecutors and judges in a plot to arrest and jail Bolsonaro’s opponent, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on bogus charges and prevent him from running for a third term in the 2018 election.”
Brazilian prosecutors allege that Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil went beyond the boundaries of journalism and the public interest. They claim Greenwald and his colleagues played a “clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime” and are part of a “criminal organization” responsible for hacking into public officials’ mobile phones.
Six other people were named in the complaint.
The charges were a surprise, as Greenwald was previously cleared of charges by Federal Police in a December report. HuffPosts’ Ryan Grenoble called the development “an alarming sign that Brazil’s increasingly authoritarian government is punishing a journalist for revealing explosive information.” Greenwald and his family had previously received death threats from Bolsanaro supporters. Bolsanaro himself even threatened Greenwald with jail time, and said Greenwald married his husband, David Miranda, a Rio de Janeiro council member, to avoid getting deported.
“The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms,” Greenwald said in a statement to The Daily Beast. He continued:
Less than two months ago, after examining the same evidence cited today by Brazil’s Public Ministry, the Federal Police stated that not only have I never committed any crimes in my contacts with our source, but also that I exercised extreme caution as a journalist. This new accusation — brought by the same prosecutor who just tried and failed to criminally prosecute the head of the Brazilian Bar Association for criticizing Minister Moro — is an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government.
Multiple international civil liberties and journalism organizations defended Greenwald. The ACLU denounced the charges on Twitter:
Our government must immediately condemn this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognize that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad, like Glenn Greenwald. https://t.co/fHycUBq3Dq
— ACLU (@ACLU) January 21, 2020
Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm posted a statement of support on the organization’s website:
These sham charges are a sickening escalation of the Bolsonaro administration’s authoritarian attacks on press freedom and the rule of law. They cannot be allowed to stand. We call on the Brazilian government to immediately halt its persecution of Greenwald 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.
Greenwald told The Daily Beast he intends to fight the charges however he can.