Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and European Magazine Media Association (EMMA), European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Freedom house, Global Editors Network (GEN), Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), 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.
An investigative reporter for the independent newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Piatek is facing a possible two to three-year jail sentence in a case that is being prepared by military prosecutors and could 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, 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 book’s claims. He also said that it would be absurd to subject a civilian to military justice.
“Subjecting a civilian to military justice 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 hostility to the media’s rightful role in acquiring and disseminating information of public interest.”
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.