Poland: Conviction of a journalist for revealing that a government aide defended Ukraine invasion is “absurd and scandalous”, says RSF
The reporter Tomasz Piątek was condemned to a fine for writing that a Polish military officer spreading Russian propaganda supported the invasion of Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supports the laureate of its Press Freedom Award, as he appeals the verdict.
“The journalist Tomasz Piątek acted in public interest: he revealed that by calling the Ukrainians ‘fascists’, a Polish military officer was spreading in 2014 Russia’s propaganda which later became the pretext for a full scale invasion of Ukraine. The court's decision, which is absurd and scandalous, must be overturned on appeal,” said the Head of the European Union and Balkans Desk at RSF, Pavol Szalai.
The investigative reporter was condemned on 23 June to a fine worth €1,000 and an apology through media to the Polish military officer, Colonel Krzysztof Gaj, who filed the complaint against him. Despite RSF’s calls, a Warsaw district court ruled that the journalist “slandered” Krzysztof Gaj by claiming in 2017 that he wrote that he supported the invasion of Ukraine and had "dangerous ties to the Kremlin, the mafia and lobbying". Tomasz Piątek based his claims on the officer’s article "Fascists at our gates" from 2014 - the year of Russia’s invasion of the Donbass region in Ukraine - stating that the Ukrianians were “fascists” and the President Vladimir Putin was “right to fight them”. In his book, the journalist also revealed that before working at the Defense Ministry, Krzysztof Gaj cooperated with a foundation whose director had ties with the Russian mafia.
The full reasoning of the court’s decision has not been made public, because the plaintiff did not give his consent which is necessary for full transparency of slander court cases in Poland. Partial confidentiality applies also on the case file. Despite having been granted permission by the judge, RSF has still not been given practical access to it by the court.
The organization fully supports the journalist as he appeals the first-instance verdict. The book about the Polish Defense Ministry mentioning Krzysztof Gaj has earned Tomasz Piątek several criminal complaints, but also a Press Freedom Award in 2017 from RSF. In the meantime, the military officer went on to work as advisor for the Prime Minister’s Office.
Poland is ranked 66th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.