So far, Katarzyna Włodkowska simply received an order on 5 November to pay of fine of 500 zlotys (108 euros) for having refused, a few days before, to name the unidentified source she quoted in her article about mayor Paweł Adamowicz’s murder.
Charged with “groundless evasion of testimony,” Włodkowska is refusing to pay the fine with her newspaper’s backing. But if she is ordered to pay the fine a second time and she sticks to her position, a court could sentence her to up to 30 days in prison.
“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. “We condemn the judicial pressure being placed on this journalist because of her work, pressure that is incompatible with a democratic legal framework, and we warn Poland against imprisoning a reporter, which would constitute a shocking anomaly in the European Union.”
If Włodkowska were to reveal the identity of the source quoted in her story, this person could be exposed to attacks or to proceedings by the Polish judicial system, which is highly politicised.
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.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, only an “overriding public interest” can justify requiring a journalist to reveal a source, and only if this requirement is “reasonably proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.”
These conditions have not so far been demonstrated by the Polish authorities. When the Gdansk appeal court ordered Włodkowska to reveal her source on 15 October, the court simply said the “good of the justice system requires it.”
Włodkowska and Gazeta Wyborcza are meanwhile planning to file a complaint with a court objecting to the fine.
This is not the first time Włodkowska has been subjected to judicial harassment in connection with her coverage of the mayor’s assassination. As RSF reported at the time, the prosecutor’s office opened a criminal investigation into her reporting in February 2020 on suspicion that she had violated the confidentiality of the official investigation into the assassination. If convicted, she could face a two-year jail sentence.
Poland is ranked 64th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.