A coalition of more than 40 press freedom and human rights groups from across the globe sent a letter Friday to Brazilian authorities condemning cybercrime charges brought against American investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald earlier this week as a clear intimidation effort for his reporting on key members of President Jair Bolsonaro's government.
"These charges represent a straightforward attempt to intimidate and retaliate against Greenwald and The Intercept for their critical reporting."
Greenwald, who co-founded The Intercept, lives in Rio de Janeiro with his husband, Brazilian Congressman David Miranda, and their family. The letter (pdf) initiated by Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) and Freedom of the Press Foundation echoes journalists, politicians, and advocates worldwide who have expressed support for Greenwald since Tuesday.
"These charges represent a straightforward attempt to intimidate and retaliate against Greenwald and The Intercept for their critical reporting on messages that appeared to show a judge advising federal prosecutors how to prosecute cases he was presiding over in the 'Operation Car Wash' investigation," the letter says. "Further, by charging Greenwald with a cybercrime the government has essentially criminalized engaging in legitimate journalistic practices, which threatens to have a chilling effect on journalists and sources alike."
The charges against Greenwald are part of a broader "campaign of harassment against journalists covering the scandal," explains the letter. Since June 2019, when the online outlet began reporting on leaked messages exchanged by public officials, "attacks on Greenwald and The Intercept have included specific death threats, public disinformation, and a criminal prosecution."
Along with other human rights and press freedom groups, we sent an open letter to the authorities in #Brazil condemning the criminal charges against @ggreenwald, which are designed to intimidate other journalists. #PressFreedom
Read the full letter:https://t.co/atwLFO0qFZ
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) January 24, 2020
Noting an August 2019 injunction from the Brazilian Supreme Court and a conclusion from federal police last month that Greenwald has not committed any crime related to the messages, the letter declares that "the Federal Prosecutor's Office has abused its power by charging Greenwald" and denounces the office's position as "unjustifiable."
"These charges await approval from a federal judge, giving the courts the opportunity to reject them and protect freedom of the press. Even so, the chilling effect of such legal intimidation remains," concludes the letter. "If these tactics are allowed to stand, it would jeopardize all Brazilians' freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to participate in democracy."
Other signatories to the letter include Access Now, the ACLU, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, CodePink, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Demand Progress, Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute, RootsAction, and the World Association of News Publishers. Greenwald sits on the board of directors for Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Greenwald, who has not been detained, vowed Tuesday that "we will not be intimidated." In a fundraising email to readers of The Intercept, the journalist said Friday that he has been "deeply humbled by the outpouring of support" and called the criminal complaint "retaliation for our reporting on the misconduct of senior officials in the Bolsonaro government."
"Our legal team is confident that we'll defeat the baseless accusation that I committed cybercrimes," Greenwald wrote. "The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms, but we will not be intimidated by their tyrannical attempts to silence journalists."
Read the rights groups' letter in English below (and in Portuguese here):
Presidente da República, Jair Bolsonaro
Presidente da Câmara dos Deputados, Rodrigo F. Maia
Presidente do Senado, David Alcolumbre
Presidente do Supremo Tribunal Federal, Dias Toffoli
Procurador Geral da República, Augusto Aras
Corregedora Geral do MPF, Elizeta Maria de Paiva Ramos
Procuradora Federal dos Direitos dos Cidadãos, Deborah Duprat
We, the undersigned press freedom and civil liberties organizations, emphatically condemn the Brazilian authorities’ criminal charges against the award-winning investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald.
These charges represent a straightforward attempt to intimidate and retaliate against Greenwald and The Intercept for their critical reporting on messages that appeared to show a judge advising federal prosecutors how to prosecute cases he was presiding over in the “Operation Car Wash” investigation. Further, by charging Greenwald with a cybercrime the government has essentially criminalized engaging in legitimate journalistic practices, which threatens to have a chilling effect on journalists and sources alike.
The recently disclosed charges are only the most recent development in a campaign of harassment against journalists covering the scandal. Threats against them have been documented since last June, when The Intercept began publishing a series of important public interest stories based on a cache of leaked Telegram messages between public officials.
A coalition of 29 free speech and human rights organizations penned a letter in July 2019 to denounce these threats.1 Then, as now, the implications affect not just Greenwald and his colleagues, but the broader free press in Brazil, including both domestic and international media.
The attacks on Greenwald and The Intercept have included specific death threats, public disinformation, and a criminal prosecution. Notably, in August 2019, in a remarkable opinion by a member of Brazil’s highest court ordered any police investigation into Greenwald halted and condemned any such efforts as “an unambiguous act of censorship” in violation of the country’s constitution.
The right of journalists to report on primary source materials documenting official malfeasance is a critically important press freedom issue. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has abused its power by charging Greenwald for doing just that — despite a federal police conclusion just last month that there was no evidence that Greenwald committed any crime in relation to the leaked messages.
Given the Supreme Court injunction and that federal police conclusion, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office’s position that Greenwald conspired to commit a crime with his anonymous source is unjustifiable.
These charges await approval from a federal judge, giving the courts the opportunity to reject them and protect freedom of the press. Even so, the chilling effect of such legal intimidation remains. If these tactics are allowed to stand, it would jeopardize all Brazilians’ freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to participate in democracy.
Freedom of the Press Foundation*
Reporters Without Borders
American Civil Liberties Union
ARTICLE 19 Brazil and South America
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Asociación por los Derechos Civiles
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Brave New Films
Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji)
Columbia Journalism Review
Committee to Protect Journalists
Cooperativa Tierra Común
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Fundación Acceso (Costa Rica)
Fundación Ciudadania Inteligente
Fundación Datos Protegidos (Chile)
Fundación Huaira (Ecuador)
Fundación Vía Libre
Human Rights Watch
Instituto Vladimir Herzog
International Press Institute
National Federation of Brazilian Journalists (FENAJ)
Newscoop Pen International
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
World Association of News Publishers
* Glenn Greenwald serves as a member of the board of directors.