Brazilian journalist Felipe Oliveira has been accused of the crime of promoting terrorism after infiltrating a group of sympathizers of the Islamic State (IS) as part of a journalistic investigation conducted in 2016.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) reported on April 19 that Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva, of the 14th Federal Court of Curitiba accepted a complaint by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (MPF) in Paraná in February 2018. According to the complaint, Oliveira "exceeded the tolerable limit and promoted the Islamic State terrorist organization" in messages to the group.
In early 2016, Oliveira entered a virtual forum using a code name to investigate methods of the IS to recruit young people in Europe, Abraji said. The journalist then began to communicate with members of Brazilian groups sympathetic to the IS, as someone interested in joining them. The investigation resulted in reports for Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, published in March 2016, and for TV Globo's Fantástico program, broadcast in July 2016.
Eight participants of these groups were arrested in Operation Hashtag, conducted by the Brazilian Federal Police at the same time, as reported by Nexo. The operation was aimed at dismantling alleged terrorist cells that could carry out attacks against the Olympic Games that would be held in August of the same year in Rio de Janeiro.
The accusation signed by federal attorney Rafael Brum Miron states that "[Oliveira's] goal may not have been to promote terrorism, but at various times he encouraged the wrongdoing," says the text, reported on by Abraji. "The limit on such an investigation is to not commit the crime being investigated," the prosecutor wrote.
The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office complaint also states that Oliveira "should have taken the facts to the Federal Police as soon as he learned of the undertaking of crimes," according to Abraji.
The journalist, however, maintains that from the beginning of the investigation he was in contact with the Federal Police, passing on the information he received in the groups. According to what he told the site R7, the first contact with the group occurred on a Thursday, and the following Saturday he took the material he had collected to the Federal Police.
"I fulfilled my duty as an investigative reporter. There was no intention other than to disclose the existence of these organizations to the authorities and the public," Oliveira told Abraji.
The Federal Police's investigation mentions that the journalist "presented himself at the Federal Police's Regional Superintendency in the State of Rio de Janeiro (SR / PF / RJ) and spontaneously made statements and presented his smartphone to the Judiciary Police." However, delegate Guilherme Torres, at the conclusion of the investigation, says that Oliveira "did not have the expected posture of a journalist, which should be only the investigation of the facts, and if there is a crime, to inform the competent authority," reported Abraji .
Oliveira told R7 that he "trusts in the Justice system." "We were doing purely journalistic work, we trust that the Justice will verify and acquit, because at no time did we want to promote terrorism. On the contrary, we told the authorities everything we knew," the journalist said.
Beno Brandão, Oliveira's defense lawyer, told R7 that the accusation against Oliveira is "an attack on press freedom." "It is a clear case for summary acquittal. The prosecution thinks he should have stopped the contacts after the story went was published, but he was just doing his job."
According to Nexo, the complaint filed against Oliveira is based on the Antiterrorism Law (13.260 / 2016), hastily approved by the Brazilian Congress and sanctioned by then-President Dilma Rousseff before the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The passage in question is in article 3 of the law, which prohibits "promoting, constituting, integrating or providing assistance, personally or through an intermediary person, a terrorist organization.”
"Abraji believes that Oliveira's journalistic activity should not be confused with crime," the association's board wrote in a note. "We appeal to federal judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva to use the understanding and respect he certainly has for the work of the press to declare Felipe de Oliveira innocent."
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.