Authorities in Brazil were under fire Tuesday for charging U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes after his investigative website published leaked messages that exposed political bias and major wrongdoing by officials in a massive corruption probe.
Federal prosecutors allege that Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, “helped, motivated, and guided” a group of hackers as they accessed the cell phones of Justice Minister Sergio Moro and prosecutors involved in the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) probe.
Walter Delgatti Neto, one of the hackers, has admitted sharing thousands of encrypted messages between Moro, a former judge, and Car Wash investigators.
The Intercept began publishing them in 2019.
The chats showed Moro conspired to keep former president and leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva out of the 2018 presidential election that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro ultimately won.
Moro, who was a judge in the case before joining Bolsonaro’s cabinet, has refused to resign over the scandal.
Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian husband and two adopted children, took to Twitter to denounce the charges as “an attack on press freedom.”
“We won’t be intimidated by the state apparatus or the Bolsonaro government,” he said.
In a statement, the Intercept said the charges were “blatantly politically motivated” and were an “apparent retaliation” for the publication’s work exposing wrongdoing in the Lava Jato probe.
Trevor Timm, the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement that the charges against Greenwald are a “sham” and amount to a “sickening escalation of the Bolsonaro administration’s attacks on press freedom and the rule of law.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists also denounced the charges in a tweet.
“Charging a journalist with criminal activity based on interactions with sources sends a chilling message to reporters working on sensitive stories at a time when the media in #Brazil is increasingly under attack from officials in its own government,” the organization said.
The press freedom groups were also joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International in condemning the charges.
On Tuesday, dozens of U.S. journalists, many of whom have previously butted heads with Greenwald on a host of unrelated issues, took to Twitter to express solidarity with him.
“Like others, I’ve had my disagreements with [Greenwald] over the years,” Vox journalist Ezra Klein said.
“But this isn’t the time for those. The Bolsonaro government’s effort to intimidate and threaten him is chilling. Everyone who cares about press freedom anywhere should denounce it.”
Lula, who was released from prison in the wake of the Intercept’s reporting, also expressed support for Greenwald.
“All my solidarity to journalist [Glenn Greenwald] who was a victim of another blatant abuse of authority against freedom of press and democracy,” the former president said in a tweet.
Brazilian federal Prosecutors said that an intercepted conversation between Greenwald and the hackers showed he went beyond receiving and publishing the hacked messages.
They also alleged Greenwald urged the group to delete chats already sent to him in order to hide any link between them and the “illegal material.”
But such behavior, some experts say, is par for the course in investigative journalism does not rise to the level of participating in the hacking itself.
In its statement, the Intercept said that the evidence cited by prosecutors had already been “rigorously analyzed by the country’s Federal Police” and resulted in no prior charges.
“We at the Intercept see this as an attempt to criminalize not only our journalism but also that of the dozens of partners that collaborated with our staff,” the publication said.
Bolsonaro has previously branded Greenwald a “militant” and suggested he could do jail time.
Greenwald, who was part of the team that first interviewed fugitive U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, told AFP in June he had received “grotesque” threats also targeting his family since his team began publishing the messages.
The Globe Post’s Bryan Bowman contributed reporting to this article.