Supreme Court Minister prohibits investigation of journalist and guarantees source confidentiality in Brazil

Minister Gilmar Mendes of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF, for its initials in Portuguese) granted an injunction that ensures that U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald cannot be investigated for divulging information or for keeping source confidentiality.

Greenwald counters Bolsonaro's attacks (Vinicius Loures/Câmara dos Deputados)

On July 27, President Jair Bolsonaro hinted that Greenwald could be jailed following publication of reports based on leaked messages exchanged between prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol, coordinator of the Operation Car Wash Task Force, and then-judge Sergio Moro, the current Minister of Justice.

Since June, The Intercept Brazil, founded by Greenwald, has published a series of reports based on the messages, which allegedly indicate collaboration between the prosecutor and the Car Wash judge. Throughout the coverage, the site has partnered with other outlets, such as Folha de S. Paulo, Veja, UOL and El País, which also began to analyze the messages and publish reports.

A lawsuit was filed with the STF by the Rede Sustentabilidade party, which called for a declaration of unconstitutionality of acts that would open investigation into the journalist, according to the court’s website.

The lawsuit was prompted by reports of an alleged investigation by the Federal Police, which allegedly requested information from the Financial Activities Control Council (Coaf) about Greenwald’s financial transactions, to “investigate” alleged criminal activity related to the leaks, Consultor Jurídico explained.

For the minister, although the Federal Police and other bodies have not confirmed the existence of investigations against the journalist, "neither of these agencies ruled out the future possibility of opening," which is why he decided to grant the injunction, Agência Brasil reported.

In the decision, the minister emphasizes that freedom of expression guarantees the right to obtain, produce and disseminate facts and news by any means. “The constitutional confidentiality of the journalistic source (art. 5, item XIV, of the Federal Constitution) makes it impossible for the State to use coercive measures to constrain professional performance and to reveal the form of reception and transmission of what is brought to public knowledge,” Mendes wrote.

On Twitter, Greenwald celebrated the decision, thanked the support he has received, and stressed that the Supreme Court's decision is a guarantee for all Brazilian journalists: “Most journalists have defended our right - our duty - to report this material. It's just a minority, usually Bolsonaro supporters, who don't. But all Brazilian journalists will be protected by these precedents in defense of a free press.”

Mendes' decision was also based on the Supreme Court's jurisprudence that applies a constitutional understanding that prevents the imposition of criminal, civil or administrative sanctions on journalists, in the exercise of the source confidentiality prerogative, the Supreme Court’s website said.

The move comes four days after the minister said, in an interview with Correio Braziliense, that members of Car Wash caused damage due to abuse of power, in a reference to the leaked messages. "Basically, a game of friends. It's a criminal organization to investigate people," he said.

Recently, coverage of the leaked messages, known as Vaza-Jato, a play on the word for “to leak,” revealed that Mendes himself allegedly was targeted by investigators who allegedly were interested in impeaching the magistrate, according to El País.