On Wednesday, January 20th, during a joint protest organized by the Women’s Strike, the entrepreneurs angered by the government’s lockdown rules, and the antifascist activists, police officers tear gassed our photojournalist Jędrzej Nowicki while he was covering the events on one of the main squares of Warsaw. There was no justification for the police assault – Nowicki had an armband indicating that he was a member of the press, and he also identified himself as a journalist to the officer who was physically assaulting him at the scene. Despite all this, the officer sprayed Nowicki in the face with tear gas while standing directly in front of him. The entire incident was captured by a photo journalist from Agencja Forum.
Around the same time and under very similar circumstances, police used tear gas against Maciej Jaźwiecki, another photo journalist covering the protest for Gazeta Wyborcza. Jaźwiecki was also wearing clearly visible press identification.
We resolutely condemn these unjustifiable acts of aggression and demand that they lead to a rigorous investigation and disciplinary action towards the officers who assaulted our journalists.
This latest example of police brutality is all the more contemptible since it represents yet another in a series of assaults on journalists fulfilling their professional duty. On November 11, 2020, during a brawl caused by the far right militias on the occasion of their Independence March, Dominik Łowicki, a reporter from the video section of “Gazeta Wyborcza” was brutally beaten with a police baton, receiving multiple hits to his legs and back. He was also tear gassed. Right before the assault, he was holding his hands up and shouting ‘media’.
Several other journalists were harmed during the squirmish. Tomasz Gutry, a 74-year-old photoreporter from “Tygodnik Solidarność” was struck by a rubber bullet in the head. Renata Kim, a journalist from “Newsweek Polska”, received two hits to her kidneys, even though she was wearing a bright vest with the word “media” on it. Przemysław Stefaniak, a freelance journalist, and Adam Tuchliński, a photo journalist from “Newsweek Polska” received several blows with a police baton.
Two weeks later, photojournalist Agata Grzybowska, another collaborator of Gazeta Wyborcza, was detained while covering an anti-government protest in front of the Ministry of Education building in Warsaw. She was forcibly pulled out of the protesting crowd by the police and escorted to the police van. During the arrest police officers refused to recognize her as a journalist although Agata identified herself and showed them her Press-ID.
Two journalists working for “Gazeta Wyborcza” - Magdalena Kozioł i Joanna Urbańska-Jaworks - were assaulted on Wednesday, October 28th, in Wrocław while they were covering the protests against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling restricting the abortion law in Poland. The assailant was released pending trial after the prosecutor’s office, politically controlled by the Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, revoked the arrest request from the court, in an uncharacteristic display of deference to the defendant.
Over the last five years, the ruling camp is sparing no effort to quash freedom of speech in Poland by putting constant pressure on private media outlets. Journalists have to deal with innumerable obstacles and constant intimidation attempts in their day-to-day work, ranging from lawsuits to incessant verbal assaults, in a cynical and concentrated effort to cause a chilling effect on their reporting. Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Justice ensure that those responsible for physically assaulting journalists can act in impunity. This cannot, and will not be, accepted by the Polish society and independent media as the “new normal”.
These latest acts of aggression have to be met with a firm response from the journalistic community both in Poland and abroad, as well from international organizations responsible for human rights.
The Editorial Board of Gazeta Wyborcza
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