The attacks began on 9 June, immediately after The Intercept Brasil published a series of leaks exposing serious irregularities in “Operation Car Wash,” one of the most important corruption investigations in Brazil’s history.The target of the first attacks was Greenwald, the co-founder of the English-language investigative news website The Intercept, and editor of The Intercept Brasil, its Portuguese-language sister site.
Then his family and the website’s staff was attacked. On 11 June, Greenwald’s husband, federal congressman David Miranda, filed a complaint and published some of the unpleasant messages and death threats received since the start of the revelations, including a demand of 10,000 dollars in Bitcoins in return for not harming the couple’s children.
The insults, smears and death threats spread like wildfire on social media, along with false and defamatory content designed to discredit The Intercept’s staff and Greenwald, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and who has lived in Brazil for much of the past decade. The hashtag #DeportaGreenwald calling for his deportation trended on Twitter, backed by an online petition on Change.org.
The initial reactions from the government, some national media outlets and those whose actions were called into question by the revelations, especially justice minister Sérgio Moro, focused on the supposedly illegal nature of the leaked material – including Telegram messages, audio and video recordings, photos and legal documents – which The Intercept Brasil received from an anonymous source.
“The Brazilian authorities must ensure respect for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which is guaranteed by Brazil’s constitution, must protect The Intercept Brasil’s journalists and must investigate the serious threats received by Glenn Greenwald and his family,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “Attacks on the credibility of a media outlet after it is has revealed information in the public interest that is compromising for the government are sadly frequent in Brazil and are clearly designed to deflect the public’s attention from the content of the revelations. In this unprecedented case, they are all more serious for having been accompanied by threats against the lives of journalists and a wave of absolutely disgraceful homophobic and xenophobic insults.”
Disinformation and public statements aimed at discrediting the media are very common in Brazil and encourage mistrust of journalism. This mistrust often leads to hate speech, smear campaigns, online mob “lynching” and abusive prosecutions – all of which lead in turn to self-censorship. The climate for journalism has been getting more and more hostile and especially so since Jair Bolsonaro became president in January.
The leaks published by The Intercept reveal prohibited collaboration between Sérgio Moro, the judge who was trying the Operation Car Wash corruption investigation, and Deltan Dallagnol, the main prosecutor.
Brazil is ranked 105th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.