Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says journalist Glenn Greenwald committed crime and insinuates he could be jailed

In an interview after a ceremony at a military unit in Rio de Janeiro on July 27, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denied that the recent decree authorizing the summary deportation of 'dangerous' foreigners could be used against journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, whose site has published a series of reports about the content of leaked messages between public officials. In response, however, the leader said there is a possibility that the journalist could be jailed in Brazil.

“(The decree) has nothing to do with his (Greenwald’s) case. So much so that it doesn't fit the decree, the crime he is committing. Also, he is married to another man and has adopted boys in Brazil, right? Trickster, trickster to avoid such a problem, marries another trickster, adopts a child in Brazil. That's the problem we have, he won't go away, Glenn can keep calm. Maybe he will do jail time in Brazil, but won’t do it overseas,” the president said.

soldiersBolsonaro em cerimônia militar no Rio, onde disse que jornalista Glenn Greenwald poderia 'pegar cana' no Brasil (Palácio do Planalto/Cortesia)

On July 25, a decree signed by Justice Minister Moro facilitates the deportation of “dangerous” foreigners within 48 hours. The text defines as dangerous those accused of terrorism, of being in an armed criminal group, of trafficking in drugs, weapons or persons, of child pornography or sexual exploitation, and of stadium violence.

Greenwald and the site The Intercept Brasil have published a series of reports about the content of messages exchanged between prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol, coordinator of the Car Wash Task Force, and then-judge Moro, who judged the case. The reports point to alleged collaboration between Dellagnol and Moro. The publications generated scandal in the country and government allies have accused Greenwald and The Intercept of complicity with the hackers.

Last week, federal deputy Filipe Barros, of the Social Liberal Party (PSL, for its acronym in Portuguese), which is the president's party, filed a request with the Attorney General's Office (PGR) for the temporary jailing of Greenwald, the site IG reported. The congressman says there is allegedly evidence that the journalist was complicit in the crime of obtaining data from authorities' cell phones.

Upon publishing its first report concerning the leaked messages, The Intercept wrote that its “only role in obtaining these materials was to receive them from our source, who contacted us many weeks ago (long before the recently alleged hacking of Moro’s telephone) and informed us that they had already obtained the full set of materials and was eager to provide them to journalists.”

On July 23, the Federal Police, under the Ministry of Justice now headed by Moro, had arrested four people accused of having accessed data from public officials.

Following Moro’s signing of the decree, some critics, such as the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), were on alert in the event it could be used against Greenwald.

In this context, Bolsonaro's statement about Greenwald, “maybe he will do jail time in Brazil, but won’t do it overseas,” sounded intimidating to the journalist, by the assessment of press organizations and other journalists.

MoroMoro é alvo de reportagens baseadas em diálogos vazados a partir de chats em aplicativo de mensagens (Ministério da Justiça/Cortesia)

"Contrary to what Bolsonaro wants, we don't have a dictatorship, we have a democracy and to arrest someone you need to show evidence that the person you want to arrest has committed a crime," Greenwald told Folha de S.Paulo. “Bolsonaro does not have the power to have people jailed for political reasons without evidence that the person has committed a crime. He wants to have it, but does not have it,” the journalist added.

He also countered the accusation that he would have married and adopted children in Brazil to avoid being deported. “This is totally crazy because David and I have been married for almost 15 years. I got my permanent visa, based on our marriage, between 2006 and 2007,” Greenwald also told Folha.

On July 29, Bolsonaro returned to the subject and said that “in my opinion, he (Greenwald) has committed a crime” and said he hopes the Federal Police investigation into the theft of private messages from authorities proves this: “in any other country, he would be in another situation. I hope the Federal Police genuinely reaches it, connects all the dots,” the president said, according to G1.

He also hinted that information was purchased and said that source confidentiality cannot be used as an excuse to cover up a crime.

“In my view, this has had transactions. In my opinion, financial transactions and, by all indications, the intention is always to strike, in this case, to strike Car Wash, to strike Sérgio Moro, to strike my person, to try to disqualify, to wear out. (...) Phone invasion is a crime and that’s it. There's nothing to discuss further. You can't shield yourself, 'I'm a journalist'. A journalist has to do his job. Preserving the confidentiality of the source, all right. Now, a criminal origin, the guy wants to safeguard the crime, invading the Republic, eroding the name of Brazil," the president said, according to G1.

In another response to the president, Greenwald Tweeted excerpts of the Brazilian constitution that guarantee press freedom: “If anyone can show President Jair Bolsonaro what the Brazilian constitution guarantees, I think it would be helpful. I highlighted the most important parts for him.”

Journalists and free speech and business advocates have shown solidarity with Greenwald.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) said on Twitter that “by threatening to jail a journalist who publishes information that he dislikes, President Bolsonaro promotes and instigates serious attacks on freedom of expression. Without free journalism, other freedoms will also die. No more persecution.”

Marty Baron, executive editor of the renowned U.S. newspaper The Washington Post, published the English translation of Abraji’s note on his Twitter account.

The National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) said that while Greenwald could not be deported because he is married to a Brazilian and has two Brazilian children, “the attempt to intimidate the journalist is evident. As it is a government action, Fenaj warns of the danger of the return of censorship of the press and persecution of journalists, practices adopted during the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and common to undemocratic governments.

GreenwaldGreenwald rebate ataques de Bolsonaro: constituição garante liberdade de imprensa. (Vinicius Loures/Câmara dos Deputados)

The organization says the government disrespects the constitution and moves towards an autocracy, remembering other cases of Bolsonaro’s attacks on journalists. More recently, the president "classified as ‘idiotic’ a question about relatives’ use of helicopters from the Brazilian Air Force. After insistence from journalists, he ended the interview without answering the question. Fenaj warns of the danger of restrictions on press freedom, which are always used by autocratic governments,” the organization said.

In an interview with BBC Brasil, Uruguayan Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS, said that "Brazil's president unfortunately seems to have forgotten about the Constitution and international treaties on freedom of expression of which Brazil is a signatory."

Lanza said he viewed Brazil's situation with concern and compared it with the logic adopted by the regimes of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. “Bolsonaro was elected with a discourse of free expression and of the press, but quickly abandons it when something bothers him. I see no difference in relation to the behavior of Chávez and Correa in Latin America,” he told the BBC Brasil.

The rapporteur recalled another case in which the press revealed information of public interest obtained illegally by the source who made it available. “There is an ignorance about how freedom of expression works. This is not new. Imagine if the roles of the 1970s Pentagon on the Vietnam War had not become known, if the journalists who released them had not been protected by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is protected by international laws and agreements. A journalist publishing something that was illegally obtained, but that is of public interest, as is the case here, cannot be criminalized and does not threaten national security," he told the BBC Brazil.

The Brazilian Press Association (ABI) carried out an act in solidarity with Greenwald and the other journalists of The Intercept Brazil.

In a note posted on The Intercept Brazil's Twitter, editor-in-chief Betsy Reed writes that Bolsonaro's accusation that Greenwald would have married in Brazil to avoid being deported "would be ridiculous if it were not dangerous." The site published an editorial, signed by Reed, Greenwald and the Brazilian editor Leandro Demori stating that “the Bolsonaro government’s aggressive response shows why our reporting on the secret Brazil archive is so vital.”

"We are grateful for the solidarity of press freedom advocates around the world, as Brazilian democratic institutions face this profound test under the current government, led by an authoritarian who sees nothing wrong with threatening a journalist simply for exercising his profession," Reed wrote via Twitter.