Freedom of Expression

Press release R22/20

Brazil: UN and IACHR experts express concern over the complaint against journalist Glenn Greenwald

GENEVA/WASHINGTON D.C. (6 February, 2020) – Human rights experts* have expressed their serious concern over the complaint filed by the Brazilian Public Prosecutor´s Office against Glenn Greenwald, founding editor and journalist of the newspaper The Intercept-Brazil, for allegedly collaborating with the hacking of judges' and prosecutors' devices.

"Legal threats like these put all reporting in Brazil at risk. Journalists who investigate cases of corruption or improper actions by public authorities should not be subjected to judicial or any other types of harassment in retaliation for their work," said David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

"Criminal charges of this nature can also have a general chilling effect on press investigations. In the case of any measure that may affect the exercise of freedom of expression, States must ensure that restrictions are provided by law, serve one of the legitimate interests recognized by international law, and are necessary and proportionate to protect that interest," said Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The Intercept has published several articles reporting on conversations between the prosecutors and judges related to the so-called "Operation Lava Jato", exposing irregularities and alleged violations of due process of some defendants. These conversations are alleged to have been shared with Mr. Greenwald by a confidential source.

The Federal Police reportedly identified a group of people who were allegedly involved in the interception of the officials’ communications, but ruled out any involvement by Mr. Greenwald. However, on January 21, prosecutor Wellington Divino Marques de Oliveira filed a complaint against Mr. Greenwald for criminal association and alleged that he "aided, abetted and guided" the group of hackers during the cell phone interceptions.

The Special Rapporteurs recall that in July 2019, the President of the Republic, Jair Bolsonaro, following the publication of the above-mentioned articles, stated that Mr. Greenwald could end up being incarcerated and suggested that the journalist had married a Brazilian citizen to avoid deportation. In the wake of death threats against Mr. Greenwald, the Rapporteurs issued a statement at that time noting the seriousness of the attacks and urged the Government to take steps to "prevent, protect, investigate and punish violence" against him, his family and other journalists. Likewise, the UN Special Rapporteur sent a communication to the Brazilian government in July 2019 regarding the online harassment campaign and threats to life of Mr. Greenwald and his partner, as well as the Executive Editor of The Intercept-Brazil. The expert requested information regarding the measures taken to investigate these allegations and to ensure the safety of the above-mentioned persons. While the Brazilian Government responded that the Federal Police had initiated an investigation and described the protection programs available in the country, it did not specify any specific measures taken regarding this case.  

The Special Rapporteurs insist that criminal investigations should not be used as a threat to journalistic work. The authorities should refrain from prosecuting journalists based on generic or disproportionate charges that criminalize the circulation of information of public interest, which is protected by the right to freedom of expression, they said.

Both experts draw further attention to the connection that these processes may have with the right to the protection of journalistic sources, given its inestimable value for society's access to information of public interest. Without this protection, information of high interest would hardly be transmitted to the public.

The Special Rapporteurs are in contact with the authorities of Brazil, who provided additional information on an ongoing formal investigation on the threats reported by Mr. Greenwald and his companion.

* The experts:

Mr. David Kaye, as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionis part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Mr. Edison Lanza is the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.