Legal threats brought against Polityka journalist to muzzle investigative reporting

The following article is part of JFJ Investigative Grant Programme 2020 and was originally published on the ECPMF website.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, an investigative journalist for Polityka, Poland’s biggest weekly, has been targeted with multiple legal threats. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) calls for the dismissal of these civil and criminal cases, which are connected to his investigative reporting.

The first group of cases relates to the so-called “wiretapping scandal”. This scandal led indirectly to the defeat of the Civic Platform (ruling political party at that time) in the 2016 elections and helped to bring the Law and Justice (PiS) party to power. In a series of articles published between February 2018 and March 2019, Rzeczkowski described ties between politicians, business owners, the Russian secret service and the Russian mafia.

Following the publication, several persons and entities initiated civil lawsuits against Rzeczkowski,  based on articles 23 and 24 of the Polish Civil Code (protection of personal rights), namely: Robert Szustkowski, a Polish business owner operating mainly in Russia; KTK Polska Sp. z o.o., a subsidiary of KTK – a Russian company with headquarters in Kemerovo, Russia; and Anna Hopfer, the state prosecutor who was in charge of investigating the “wiretapping scandal” and her husband, Przemysław Hopfer, who became the chair of the board of the state-owned company – KGHM Metraco. Anna Hopfer omitted to investigate the alleged Russian influence on the election results. The intent to intimidate and discourage journalists is evidenced by the extraordinary amount of compensation demanded in one of the cases (115,000 EUR where a maximum of 8,000 EUR is more common).

Additionally, the former head of the Polish Military Counterintelligence Service, has initiated a criminal case against Rzeczkowski, alleging defamation based on article 212 § 2 of the Polish Criminal Code. In the article that the victim is complaining about, Rzeczkowski points to the unusual career advancement of some people with close ties to Antoni Macierewicz, the former Minister of National Defence in the Law and Justice’s government.

These cases illustrate the proliferation of legal threats against journalists in Poland and raise serious concerns about the rule of law in their abuse of the judicial process to attempt to silence critical voices. The potential involvement of a state prosecutor, the direct links to a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned company and the failure to investigate potential Russian interference in Polish elections are evidently matters of the highest public interest. Accordingly, legal threats against journalists or news outlets investigating and reporting on such public interest affairs directly jeopardise press and media freedom and the public’s right to information and are highly corrosive to democracy and the rule of law.