Freedom of Expression

Press Release R164/19

Experts on freedom of expression of the UN and the IACHR express their concern over death threats against journalist Glenn Greenwald, director of The Intercept Brasil, and his family

July 1, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, express their concern over the threats, offensive remarks made by authorities and the intimidation against journalist Glenn Greenwald, from the news agency The Intercept Brasil, and his family, after the dissemination of information and press reports of public interest.

The Special Rapporteurs urge the State of Brazil to conduct an exhaustive, effective, and impartial investigation on the threats against the journalist and his family. Likewise, they remind Brazilian authorities of their obligation to prevent unlawful acts, protect journalists at risk, and guarantee the right to confidentiality of sources.

According to public information, on June 9, The Intercept Brasil started publishing a series of leaks denouncing alleged irregularities in the so-called "Anti-Corruption Operation Car Wash."

Immediately after the disclosure, journalist Glenn Greenwald became the target of offensive remarks, defamation, and death threats. Likewise, accompanied by the hashtag "#DeportaGreenwald" ("deport Greenwald," in Portuguese), a coordinated harassment campaign against the journalist went viral. In addition, the campaign also targeted the media outlet of which Mr. Greenwald is the founder and editor, as well as his husband, Federal Congressman David Miranda, and the couple’s children.

Public authorities pointed at the alleged illegal nature of the leaked material received by The Intercept Brasil from an anonymous source in order to discredit or restrict freedom of the press.

Furthermore, federal representatives defended the possibility of summoning Glenn Greenwald to the Chamber of Deputies, and accused him of complicity due to "advocacy journalism practices through a criminal act, which (makes him) an accomplice." The legislators indicated that the journalist was an agent allegedly confronting Brazilian institutions and authorities and "committing crimes against national security," implying that he could be criminally charged or deported from the country.

The Special Rapporteurs have also documented social media posts by a federal legislator, who uploaded a picture of Mr. Greenwald on Facebook accompanied with the caption "Enemy of Brazil." On the post, the journalist’s husband was also allegedly involved.

On June 17, through a press release, Miranda disclosed a series of threats against him and his children. In addition, he indicated that he had already filed a complaint at the Brazilian Federal Police due to the growing number of attacks against him after his husband had published the leaked material.

Also, the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur takes note of the information provided by the State of Brazil before issuing this communication, which indicated that the journalist can activate the "Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders, Social Communicators and Environmentalists" (PPDDH, for its acronym in Portuguese), which since September 2018 expanded its scope of action to include journalists and communicators.

On multiple occasions, the Special Rapporteurs highlighted the media’s crucial role for democracy, especially in the case of active investigative journalism. Consequently, journalists investigating corruption cases or improper conduct by public authorities should not be targeted for judicial harassment or any other type of harassment in retaliation for their work. The United Nations Human Rights Committee reaffirmed that attacks against people exercising their right to freedom of expression are not in line with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under any circumstances. In this sense, OAS Member States reaffirmed that "journalistic activity must be free from threats, physical or psychological attacks, or other acts of harassment," and urged the implementation of comprehensive measures for the prevention, protection, and procurement of justice in this area (Resolution AG/RES. 2908 (XLVII-O/17), approved by the OAS General Assembly, in the framework of its 47th Regular Period of Sessions.

The Special Rapporteurs remind the Brazilian State that it has an obligation to prevent, protect, investigate, and punish violence against journalists, particularly those who have been subjected to harassment and threats or other acts of violence. The obligation to prevent entails, among other things, the duty to adopt a public discourse that contributes to preventing violence against journalists, which "requires that public officials refrain from making statements that expose journalists and media workers to a greater risk of acts of violence." Furthermore, the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the UN indicated that "The State shall insure the physical and psychological integrity of journalists."

In the same way, the protection of journalistic sources constitutes a principle that is part of the right to freedom of expression, given its inestimable value in providing society with access to public interest information, which would hardly be disclosed without this protection. According to Principle 8 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, "Every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential." Likewise, at the international level, the sources’ confidentiality stems from the guarantees of the right to seek, receive, and impart information, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Mr. David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Mr. Edison Lanza (Uruguay) was appointed as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in July 2014 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defence of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.