US journalist center of press freedom debate

RIO DE JANEIRO — Several weeks after publishing explosive reports about a key member of Brazil’s far-right government, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald was called before a congressional committee to face hostile questions.

“Who should be judged, convicted and in prison is the journalist!” shouted congresswoman Katia Sastre, an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro.

And by some accounts that wasn’t an empty threat: A conservative website reported that federal police had requested that financial regulators investigate Greenwald’s finances.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his Brazilian husband also say they have been receiving detailed death threats, calls for his deportation and homophobic comments in an increasingly hostile political environment.

Greenwald, an attorney-turned-journalist who has long been a free-speech advocate, has found himself at the center of the first major test of press freedom under Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1 and has openly expressed nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship — a period when newspapers were censored and some journalists tortured.

“It’s a very concerning moment for press freedom in Brazil, especially those covering something so divisive as politics,” said Natalie Southwick, the Central and South American program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Greenwald’s The Intercept news website last month published text messages purportedly showing then-judge and now Justice Minister Sergio Moro had improperly advised prosecutors in the corruption trial that jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The Intercept also alleged political bias by Moro and prosecutors in a sweeping corruption investigation that brought down many of the country’s business and political elite and turned Moro into a hero to many. The website said it got the leaked messages from an anonymous source and that it has a “vast archive” of information it has not released.

Moro has dismissed its reports as sensationalist and said a “criminal group” was aiming to invalidate convictions handed down when he was a crusading anti-corruption judge.