Prosecutors accused US journalist Glenn Greenwald on Tuesday, 21 January of involvement in hacking the phones of Brazilian officials involved in a corruption investigation, though Brazil's high court had blocked investigations of the journalist or his Brazil-based news outlet in relation to the case.
A federal judge would have to approve a formal charge based on allegations by prosecutor Wellington Divino Marques de Oliveira that Greenwald helped a group of six people hack into phones of hundreds local authorities.
De Oliveira accuses Greenwald of criminal association and illegal interception of communications. He charges the six alleged hackers with criminal organisation, money laundering, cybercrimes and illegal interception of communications.
Brazil's federal police looked at the same evidence and did not find any wrongdoing by Greenwald. A ruling by Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes later barred investigations of Greenwald and his The Intercept Brasil in relation to the alleged hacking.
Prosecutors decided to recommend charges against the journalist anyway.
Greenwald's The Intercept Brasil published excerpts from conversations involving current Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, saying they showed the then-judge was improperly coordinating with prosecutors at the time he was a judge overseeing a vast corruption investigation.
That probe led to the imprisonment of numerous business executives and politicians on corruption charges, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He was released from jail in November because he has appeals pending.
While many Brazilians hail Moro as a hero, others believe he unfairly targeted da Silva and other top leftist figures. Moro is now a key member of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s Cabinet.
Greenwald's lawyers called the prosecutors' allegations “bizarre” and said the accusations challenge the top court ruling protecting the journalist and freedom of the press in Brazil.
“Their objective is to disparage journalistic work,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Greenwald posted a video saying the accusation is "an attack to freedom of the press, to Brazil's Supreme Court (rulings), to the conclusions of the federal police and to Brazilian democracy.”
“We will defend a free press. We will not be intimidated by the abuse of the state apparatus or by the Bolsonaro administration.”Glenn Greenwald, Journalist
Prosecutors said in a statement that an unreleased audio links Greenwald to the group of hackers as they broke the law, terming it “auxiliary participation in the crime” and saying he was "seeking to subvert the idea of protection of a journalistic source into immunity to guide criminals."
Brazil's top court last year said that "the constitutional secrecy" around journalistic sources prevented the Brazilian state from using "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.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalists said in a statement that “the charges against Greenwald are based on a distorted interpretation of conversations of the journalist with his source, and has as its sole purpose embarrassing the professional, which is very serious.”
Literary and free expression group PEN America said in a statement that the move against Greenwald raises serious concerns that he may be the target of politically motivated retaliation.
“It is impossible to separate these charges against Glenn from his work as an investigative reporter,” said PEN America’s senior director of free expression programs Summer Lopez.
“While we don’t know all the contours of this story, we do know two things. First, Glenn’s reporting has deeply embarrassed the Brazilian government. Second, Brazil’s president has repeatedly and consistently attacked the press in general and Glenn in particular.”Summer Lopez, Senior Director, Free Expressions Program, PEN America
Greenwald, an attorney-turned-journalist who lives in Brazil, has frequently come under criticism by Bolsonaro.
Moro has not acknowledge the veracity of the reports by The Intercept Brasil, saying they come from “criminal invasion” of the phones of several prosecutors. Many others involved in the leaked messages or mentioned in them have confirmed their content.
Lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, a son of the president, celebrated the accusation on social media. “Glenn Greenwald always said he loved Brazil and wanted to know the country's depths. Maybe he will even know jail,” the legislator said.