A federal prosecutor in Brazil formally charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald and six others on Tuesday with cybercrimes linked to his reporting on a scandal that has embarrassed the country's justice system.
But Greenwald, who earned worldwide fame for his role in publishing classified information obtained by Edward Snowden, maintained the charges were politically motivated.
The case involves the publication of messages exchanged by then-judge Sérgio Moro, now justice minister in President Jair Bolsonaro's far-right government, between 2014 and 2018 with prosecutors responsible for investigating the Petrobras scandal, a controversy involving a state-owned oil company that sent former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to jail.
The Intercept Brasil, a website founded by Greenwald, obtained the messages and published a series of stories last year, raising serious accusations that Moro acted in collusion with prosecutors against the leftist ex-president.
Greenwald and the Intercept say they obtained the messages from anonymous sources and published a series of articles in the name of public interest.
But on Tuesday, federal prosecutor Wellington Divino de Oliveira called for the opening of a criminal case against those suspected of hacking messages from authorities on the Telegram app.
Greenwald's inclusion among those charged came as something of a surprise because a preliminary investigation by federal police had found no evidence that the journalist was responsible for any hacking.
The police investigation concluded that Greenwald only had access to the messages after the hackers obtained them, without having ordered the cyberattack or paying for it.
But according to Oliveira, the prosecutor, Greenwald "helped, encouraged and guided the group to hack cellphones."
In a statement posted on Twitter, Greenwald accused Bolsonaro’s government of trying to silence his reporting. “Less than two months ago, the Federal Police, examining all the same evidence cited by the Public Ministry, stated explicitly that not only have I never committed any crime but that I exercised extreme caution as a journalist never even to get close to any participation,” he said.
“This denunciation ... is an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government,” Greenwald said.
“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists," he vowed.
Lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president's son, used Twitter to attack the journalist and celebrate the prosecution's charges: "Glenn Greenwald always said that he loved Brazil and wanted to get to know the country in depth. Maybe he'll even get to know jail."