Brazil: Journalist Faces Baseless Charges
Saturday, February 22, 2020.

Prosecution of Glenn Greenwald Harms Press Freedom

The serious charges filed on January 20, 2020 by a Brazilian federal prosecutor against the American journalist Glenn Greenwald for communications with a confidential source are not based on any credible evidence of criminal activity, Human Rights Watch said. The prosecution could harm press freedom in Brazil.

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“The use of confidential sources to provide relevant information to the public is an integral part of journalism,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “These charges appear to be an attempt to punish Greenwald for publishing messages exchanged by judicial authorities, and we look forward to their dismissal by the courts.”

Greenwald received copies of messages obtained by hackers and published them in June 2019 in The Intercept, a news media outlet of which he is founding editor, and in other media. The messages appeared to show Sergio Moro – then a judge and now the justice minister – advising anti-corruption federal prosecutors how to prosecute former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other high-profile individuals, suggesting witnesses and strategies. Moro questioned the authenticity of the messages and said on January 20 that, in any case, the content “was absolutely normal.”

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The federal prosecutor, Wellington Divino de Oliveira, charged Greenwald with belonging to a criminal organization, punishable with up to 3 years in prison, 126 instances of intercepting communications without judicial authorization, punishable with up to 4 years in prison for each instance, and 176 instances of hacking a device, punishable with up to 1 year in prison for each instance. The maximum prison sentence would add up to 683 years.

Oliveira pressed those charges even though in August, after media reported that federal police were investigating Greenwald, a Supreme Court justice issued an injunction asserting freedom of the press in this case and forbidding “public authorities” from taking any steps that would lead to punishing Greenwald for receiving and publishing the phone messages.

The prosecutor has based his charges, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, solely on a recording of a conversation between Greenwald and an alleged hacker before the messages were published. The prosecutor alleged that in that conversation the journalist “tells the criminal group to delete [hacked] messages” already sent to him, and, based on that, he accused Greenwald of “indicating actions to make investigations difficult and to reduce the possibility of criminal prosecution.”

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However, the transcription of the conversation included in the charging document itself reveals that Greenwald never told the group to eliminate messages to avoid prosecution.

The alleged hacker asked Greenwald what to do with the messages they had already sent to him, saying they wanted to avoid interfering with the prospect of publishing them. The journalist responded that he had saved those messages in a safe place, and that he had no need for the group to keep the files. He added that deleting the files would not interfere with the publication.

Greenwald said that he “could not give advice” and that it was their decision. He said that his obligation was “to protect his source” and that he wanted to avoid the risk that its identity might be revealed.

The prosecutor also asserted that Greenwald knew, when the conversation took place, that the group was still illegally intercepting messages, but the transcript does not appear to support that conclusion. Greenwald and the alleged hacker talked about previously intercepted messages that the group had already provided to the journalist.

In addition, the prosecutor accused Greenwald of obtaining “financial benefits” from his alleged crimes but did not provide any evidence.

In December, the Federal Police finished its investigation into the leak, recommending the prosecution of six people. The police did not recommend prosecuting Greenwald, and media quoting the police report said that the police had reached that decision after concluding that in his dialogues with the sources, Greenwald was “cautious” not to participate in their crimes.

Even though the police had dismissed this conversation as evidence that he engaged in any criminal activity, Oliveira pressed charges against Greenwald, in addition to the other six people. The charges have to be reviewed by a federal court and affirmed before the case would proceed.

“The charges against Greenwald are not substantiated by evidence,” Canineu said. “Instead of prosecuting Greenwald, the federal prosecutor’s office should defend the right of journalists to maintain contact with confidential sources and the right of Brazilians to receive information of public interest.”

PN/HRW Londres

23 Janeiro 2020

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