On 21 January, Brazilian federal prosecutors charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald for “cybercrimes”. The prosecutors claim that Greenwald “helped, encouraged and guided” a group of hackers who leaked deeply embarrassing information about the Brazilian government. The move has shocked journalists and press freedom advocates worldwide.
Greenwald is co-founder of the Intercept. In June 2019, the Intercept Brasil released a massive trove of documents revealing “systematic wrongdoing” among top Brazilian prosecutors to prevent the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) from winning the 2018 presidential election.
The secret documents suggested that the prosecutors were neither apolitical nor confident in the evidence used to jail presidential front-runner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – better known as Lula. Lula has since been released, but the corruption probe – widely known as Lava Jato – paved the way for the electoral victory of far-right Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazil’s supreme court “issued an injunction last year that prohibited Greenwald for being investigated in the alleged hackers’ case”.
The charge of “cybercrimes” is ominously similar to the indictment of Julian Assange, which was unsealed by the US in April 2019.
As Greenwald himself wrote in April regarding Assange’s indictment:
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it simply accuses Assange of trying to help [Chelsea] Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different username so that she could maintain her anonymity while downloading documents in the public interest and then furnish them to WikiLeaks to publish.
Both charges thus relate to standard communication with sources and the publishing of information allegedly obtained illegally. As Brasil Wire has reported over past years, moreover, the US Department of Justice was deeply involved in Brazil’s Lava Jato corruption probe.
I wonder, did the DOJ have any consultation with Bolsonaro / Moro & company on Greenwald’s indictment, which so closely mirrors Assange’s?
If the US government refuses to defend Greenwald, this question will become more pertinent still. Whether the US green-lit the persecution of Greenwald or not, it remains true that the US indictment against Assange has set a dangerous legal precedent worldwide.
Threat to press freedom everywhere
Journalists and press freedom advocates worldwide responded to the news. Jen Robinson, who has represented Assange, wrote:
This is appalling. #Brazil charges @ggreenwald – apparently following US theory in #Assange case: prosecuting for publishing info that others obtained unlawfully & standard communication with sources. On why its a dangerous precedent https://t.co/3DFOlKFH0u #Journalismisnotacrime
— Jen Robinson (@suigenerisjen) January 21, 2020
"Similar to Greenwald’s charges in Brazil, the DOJ indictment against Assange centers on the way he allegedly solicited Manning for leaks and tried to protect her identity. Media organizations warned that the prosecution would set a dangerous precedent.."https://t.co/h9ibwMXnOS
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 21, 2020
And US representative Ro Khanna announced he was “crafting legislation to protect journalists”:
Prosecuting reporters for doing their work will have chilling effect on journalism across the world.
I'm crafting legislation to protect journalists from being prosecuted over their published work. https://t.co/vh9cS3eLi0
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) January 21, 2020
Press freedoms don’t disappear overnight. They are gradually eroded by states who first target those presented in the media as too ‘radical’ or ‘unpleasant’ to be worthy of defending. As UN torture expert Nils Melzer told The Canary in June:
In today’s information age, the media have an extraordinary power to shape public opinion, and no one is exempt from their influence.
The media are a veritable ‘fourth power’ in the state next to the traditional branches of government, controlling not only what is said and shown, but also what is not disseminated and, therefore, is withheld from the public.
No caveats necessary: we must draw the line at the first journalist targeted. Solidarity with Greenwald, Assange, and Blumenthal.
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