Journalists threatened with jail in Brazil as president reacts to damning leaks

Image of Mike Pompeo and Jair Bolsonaro, January 2019
John McEvoy

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro‘s furious response to the Intercept‘s damningLava Jatoleaks has signalled the country’s further descent into authoritarianism. And journalists face the threat of jail time as a result.

The leaks

Brazil’s massive corruption probe – Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) – began in 2014. The Car Wash team insisted “that their only consideration was to expose and punish political corruption irrespective of party or political faction” in Brazil. But in June 2019, the Intercept began publishing leaked conversations of officials involved in the probe. The messages revealed that the supposedly neutral judge, Sérgio Moro, worked together with various Brazilian prosecutors to jail presidential front-runner Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and prevent his Workers’ Party (PT) from securing election victory.

After winning the election in October 2018, Bolsonaro employed Moro – the man who jailed Lula – as his justice minister. The latest leaks are thus deeply embarrassing for the Brazilian government. In fact, they call into serious question the legitimacy of Bolsonaro’s presidency.

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Furious response

After a brief leave of absence in early July, Moro returned to work to issue a new decree against “dangerous foreigners”. Ominously named ‘decree number 666’, it is understood as a thinly veiled threat against Intercept co-founder and editor Glenn Greenwald – a US citizen who has lived in Brazil for over a decade.

Bolsonaro, not shy of revealing his fascistic tendencies, has also threatened Greenwald over the past week. On 27 July, he said Greenwald could “do jail time” and suggested “that he had married a Brazilian citizen to avoid deportation”.

In a press conference on 30 July, meanwhile, one journalist challenged Bolsonaro’s press secretary General Otávio Rêgo Barros to explain what crime Greenwald was guilty of. His refusal to give any meaningful answer was chilling:

Greenwald, his family, and the Intercept team have also received death threats.

The Brazilian federal police, meanwhile, have arrested four people accused of involvement in the leaks.

“Classic public interest journalism”

While refusing to reveal its source/s, the Intercept has responded to the Brazilian government’s threats, defending their reporting as “classic public interest journalism”. Its journalists added:

The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start. These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality

For this reason, the Intercept claims its reporting is legal under the Brazilian constitution.

On 30 July, Greenwald spoke to a packed crowd of journalists, activists, and musicians gathered in solidarity with the Intercept. To rapturous applause, Greenwald said:

I am not going to let the country of my children turn into a dictatorship.

Those who couldn’t attend the events in Brazil – including author Naomi Klein and even Fox News‘s Tucker Carlson – also sent messages of support.

The Brazilian government’s strategy in response to the leaks is clear: demonise and criminalise the messenger to shift the focus from the message.

Greenwald and the Intercept deserve international solidarity.

Featured image via Flickr – U.S. Department of State

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