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19.07.2017

Media freedom organisations urge Polish Minister of Defence to drop legal complaint against investigative journalist

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA), the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA), Freedom house, Global Editors Network (GEN), Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) have written to Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz urging him to withdraw his criminal complaint against Tomasz Piatek, the author of a new book about the minister’s alleged network of questionable Russian contacts.

 

Logos NGOs Media freedom organisations send a protest letter to the Polish Defense Minister

An investigative reporter for the independent newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza", Piatek is facing a possible two to three-year jail sentence as a result of the complaint, which would be heard by a military court.

The military bureau of the Polish prosecutor-general’s office announced on 11 July that it had received a complaint from Macierewicz accusing Piatek of “using force or threats against a public official” and “public insults or humiliation of a constitutional body” in connection with the book, published in late June.

In a joint open letter to the defence minister on 18 July 2017, the ECPMF, RSF and other organisations call on him to immediately withdraw these proceedings against Piatek.

The result of 18 months of research, the book, entitled “Macierewicz and his secrets,” describes the minister’s alleged political and financial ties with persons close to the Kremlin, to the Russian intelligence services and to Russian criminal organizations.

The minister’s complaint is based on three criminal code provisions: article 244, under which “using force or threats against a public official” is punishable by up to three years in prison; article 226, under which “public insults or humiliation of a constitutional body” is punishable by up to two years in prison; and article 231, under which public officials are protected in connection with both their official functions and their private affairs.

In a "Gazeta Wyborcza" article, Piatek has rejected all of the charges made in the complaint, pointing out that the minister has not accused him of lies or defamation and has not denied any of the books claims. He also said that it would be absurd to try a civilian before a military court.

“Trying a journalist before a military court and threatening him with a prison sentence is a form of intimidation that constitutes a grave threat to media freedom and to all those who criticize the authorities, said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. We call on European institutions to unreservedly condemn these proceedings against a journalist and to ask the minister to withdraw them.”

"The Defence Ministry's request to open this case marks an intensification of the hostile approach to the media this government has taken since it won elections in October 2015, said Nate Schenkkan, Nations in Transit Project Director at Freedom House. The government consistently shows its hostility to the media's rightful role in acquiring and disseminating information of public interest."

The IPI submitted an alert to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism, regarding the case.

RSF has been condemning violations of media freedom and pluralism in Poland ever since the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was elected nearly two years ago and embarked on a series of very controversial reforms.

Poland is ranked 54th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, seven places lower than in the 2016 index, in which it suffered a spectacular 29-place fall.

The ECPMF, IPI and EFJ did a fact finding mission to Poland in January 2016.

The Letter:

Dear Defence Minister Macierewicz,

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA), the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA), Freedom house, Global Editors Network (GEN), Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) are very concerned about the criminal proceedings you have brought through the military bureau of the Polish prosecutor-general’s office against the investigative journalist Tomasz Piatek in connection with a book he has written.

You accuse this journalist of “using force or threats against a public official” and “public insults or humiliation of a constitutional body” – charges that could result in a three-year jail sentence.

In our view, there are absolutely no grounds for prosecuting a civilian before a military court in connection with his writings. 

The organizations signing this letter therefore urge you to abandon these proceedings against this journalist.

We understand that Tomasz Piatek is an investigative journalist of recognized standing and that the book is based on 18 months of research and reporting.

As a prominent representative of the Polish state, using the prerogatives of your position to suppress criticism that has been levelled against you undermines the rule of law and helps to project a very damaging picture of respect for media freedom in your country. Like all other citizens, government ministers have other means at their disposal if they want to dispute allegations they regard as erroneous.

This latest attempt to intimidate a journalist seems to be part of a broader two-year-old offensive against freedoms in Poland that could be aggravated by the controversial proposed reform of the judicial system.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our letter.

Sincerely,  

Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Max Von Abendroth, Executive Director of the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA)

Sophie Scrive, Executive Director of European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA)

Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Nate Schenkkan, Nations in Transit Project Director at FreedomHouse

Peter Bale, President of the Global Editors Network (GEN)

Melody Patry, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship

Steven Ellis, Director of Advocacy and Communications at the International Press Institute (IPI)

Pauline Adès-Mével, Head of the EU-Balkan desk of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Oliver Vujovic, Secretary general of South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)





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