A public prosecutor in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, has filed a criminal charge against Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who became known for his reports based on NSA documents disclosed by CIA’s Edward Snowden.
Greenwald, who runs the journalistic website The Intercept, is based in Rio where he lives with his husband, member of congress David Miranda, their adopted sons and 30 rescue dogs (Greenwald is a vegan and also runs an animal shelter staffed by homeless people).
The charge caught everyone by surprise and was promptly criticized by the bar association, the journalists’ union and the New York Times.
It was based on an exchange between Greenwald and a hacker who provided the journalist with materials that showed that former judge and now minister of justice, Sérgio Moro, acted politically as the judge of the ‘anti-corruption’ Car Wash operation.
The operation put former president Lula in jail and freed the way for a Bolsonaro government, since Lula was a likely winner of the election. Soon after Bolsonaro’s victory, Moro accepted the invitation to become a minister.
A previous investigation by the federal police had already cleared Greenwald of any association with the hackers or active participation in the hacking.
Besides, the Supreme Court justice had declared that publishing the messages was protected under the Brazilian Constitution.
As the New York Times notes, a cornerstone of the new extreme-right government is “assailing a free and critical press. Accusations of wrongdoing are dismissed as “fake news” or politically motivated slander, and the power of the state is harnessed not against the accused officials but against the reporter.”
Carwash Operation and corruption
Since launching a series of articles based on hacked messages that showed explicit corruption as the modus operandi of an operation that for many Brazilians became synonymous with the fight against corruption.
Instead of being thanked for revealing the truth behind the operation, Greenwald became a sort of a sort of persona non grata among Brazil’s aggressive extreme right linked to Brazil’s current president.
The messages showed that Sérgio Moro acted politically in conjunction with the prosecution and ignored justice’s most basic tenet for a judge, which is to be neutral.
The leaks showed that Moro even instructed his associates on how to use the media for greater impact.
The messages revealed him to be a politician, not an impartial judge as he should be. In any other country, he probably would have fallen off his pedestal. In Brazil, he carried on as minister while his fans continue to admire him as middle-class hero.
The news of the criminal charge against Greenwald was received by legal experts as yet another example of the lawfare tactics of the current government to try to shut down anyone who will reveal their own corruption and disregard for the rule of law.
The prosecutor in question had already tried to incriminate the president of Brazil’s bar association for criticizing Sérgio Moro. In fact, some suggest that it is the prosecutor who needs to be investigated for using the public prosecutor’s office for party politics.
The overall reaction is that the absurd charge is a danger to press freedom and sets a dangerous precedent for future attacks on the press.
Fake news and cyber attacks
For a few years now, and mainly since the 2018 elections, Brazilian politics are dominated by fake news and hostility towards the press.
Cambridge Analytica’s consultant, Brittany Kaiser, said in an interview to the Brazilian press that Bolsonaro used the Internet to ‘disinform’ and persuade voters.
She highlighted the use of WhatsApp to send bulk messages with fake news against political adversaries.
Attacking the press is part of the strategy. This week, a report released by the national federation of journalists (Fenaj) revealed that attacks to the media increased by 54% in 2019, from 135 cases in 2018 to 208 last year.
70% of the attacks came from politicians, especially President Bolsonaro. The figures have prompted Fenaj to comment that Bolsonaro attacks democracy by trying to discredit the work of the media.
“Democracy needs the press, journalism and journalists to work. Citizens need news to be informed about what is happening so they can make up their own minds about facts and what happens,” said Fenaj’s president, Maria José Braga.
ANDA itself was attacked several times when it started reporting negatively on Bolsonaro’s pro-hunting stance during the election campaign.
Several times the website was shut down by hackers and it has required considerable effort and resources to get it back up and running.
Glenn Greenwald’s video-response to the criminal charge:
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