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Journalist in Poland faces jail for refusing to disclose her source

22.11.2021, 11:56
 Katarzyna Włodkowska's Facebook
Katarzyna Włodkowska's Facebook

Katarzyna Wlodkowska, journalist for “Gazeta Wyborcza”, is tried for having refused to reveal her source of information to the police. It is question of her story about the assassination of Gdansk Mayor Pavel Adamowicz in 2020, as this was reported by Reporters Without Borders ( RSF ).

The journalist is charged with “groundless evasion of testimony,” and she was fined PLN 500 (about $115), but Katarzyna Włodkowska refuses to pay the fine. But if she is ordered to pay the fine for a second time, the judge could sentence her to up to 30 days in prison.

If that happens, Poland will be the only EU country where the journalist was placed in jail for simply doing her job, human rights activists said. RSF called on the Gdansk prosecutor's office to suspend the proceedings against her.

"The confidentiality of sources is a non-negotiable element of press freedom and journalistic ethics, and we express our unwavering support for Katarzyna Włodkowska, who is respecting this principle to the letter,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. He stressed that the judicial pressure exerted on the journalist through her work was incompatible with the democratic legal framework, and warned Poland against imprisoning the reporter, as it would be a "shocking anomaly in the EU".

As RSF said, “her article’s findings that the mayor’s murder may have been premeditated is damaging for image of the ruling Law and Justice Party, which waged a smear campaign against the mayor, a political adversary, prior to his assassination. The public TV broadcaster TVP, which has been turned into a ruling party propaganda outlet, named the mayor 1,800 times in the year prior to his death”. 

"The official investigation into the mayor’s murder currently seems to rule out the possibility of a premeditated killing and is treating it as the act of a mentally disturbed individual," the RSF website said.

According to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, only a "overriding public interest" can justify a requirement for a journalist to disclose the source of his information and only if this requirement is "reasonably proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued". However, according to human rights activists, the Polish authorities have not yet attained such conditions. 

Wlodkowska and Gazeta Wyborcza are going to file a lawsuit to challenge the fine.

This is not the first time a journalist has been prosecuted for covering the mayor's murder. As RSF had reported earlier, the prosecutor's office had opened criminal proceedings against her in February 2020 on suspicion of violating the secrecy of the official investigation into the murder. If convicted, the journalist could face up to two years in prison.

Poland is ranked 64th out of 180 countries in the RSF’s World Press Freedom Index in 2021.

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