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The case concerns a protest on 18 November 2020 during which participants of the Women's Strike marched from the Polish parliament to the TVP building on Powstańców Warszawy Square. It was there that the crowd was pacified by the police who, for the first time against the participants of the Women's Strike demonstration, used tear gas and sent undercover officers with telescopic batons into the crowd. The cordoned-off people were released only after they had been written down.
Among them was Marcin Terlik, a journalist covering the event for a leading Polish online media outlet Onet. Three months after the incident, he was summoned to the police station in Mińsk Mazowiecki to testify. The case has been reported by online portals specializing in the media industry: Press and Wirtualne Media.
Police: He did not inform us about the fact that he was a journalist
According to Terlik, who gave an interview to Press, during his visit to the police station he was told that according to a police officer's note from the day of the protest he would not admit that he was a journalist. - This is not true. I have repeatedly shown my press card and informed the officers that I was covering the event in my capacity as a journalist," Terlik protests.
According to his account, the police charged him under Article 54 of the Code of Crimes. It concerns violation of the ban on public assemblies.
In an interview with Onet, Sylwester Marczak, the spokesman for the capital's police, attempted to justify police actions. He claimed that the officer may have considered Terlik to be an active participant in the event rather than simply a journalist covering the protest. Now, the police can refer his case to the sanitary inspectorate, which may result in an administrative fine for the journalist
Yet another case of repression against journalists
This is not the first example of journalists being harassed by the police and the sanitary inspectorate. During a strike of entrepreneurs in May 2020, police detained a journalist working for TVP and transferred him to a police station in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, an hour away from Warsaw. When he accepted a police ticket of PLN 100 (around 22 euros), the sanitary inspectorate then fined him PLN 10,000 (2200 euros). The administrative fine was eventually repealed by the Provincial Administrative Court).
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.
Also last year, the police referred the case of "Wyborcza" photojournalist Kuba Atys to court after he photographed a protest in front of Jarosław Kaczyński's house in Zoliborz. Just like in all the above cases, the police explained that they did not know in what capacity Atys was present at the protest site.
Human Rights Lawyer: Freedom of speech in Poland is increasingly restricted
Commenting on the charge brought by the police against the Onet journalist, Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska from the board of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights points out that Terlik's situation can no longer be treated as an isolated case. - We can clearly see that the unauthorized actions taken by the police against journalists are part of a disturbing pattern. Journalists are increasingly treated in a hostile manner . Politicians choose media representatives with whom they agree to talk, and it happens that others are not even allowed into press conferences - says Bychawska-Siniarska, referring to the situation when before the runoff of the presidential election in Poland last year the photojournalists of "Fakt" and "Wyborcza" were not allowed to participate in Andrzej Duda's press conference.
In her view, "the freedom of speech in Poland is increasingly restricted. Of course it's not as bad as in Turkey or Azerbaijan, but the early signs are here. Both countries started with measures that are similar to those employed currently in Poland.
Terlik is represented by an Onet lawyer. Journalists who face similar accusations and legal harassment and do not have a lawyer can turn to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights for free legal assistance.
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