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Four police officers - two of them armed - stood outside the door of Piotr's apartment in Zielona Góra on Saturday morning. Without a warrant or even a decision signed by a superior, only showing their IDs, the officers demanded to be let in and ordered Piotr to hand over his electronic equipment, including his work computer. Seizing the devices, the police have violated the reporter’s privilege to keep both his sources and sensitive data confidential.
This is an unprecedented situation, and it was conducted at the behest of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters. Apparently, someone reported a criminal threat: a threat email was allegedly sent to a PiS MP Jerzy Materna from an IP address linked to Piotr Bakselerowicz’s apartment. The Warsaw Police Department had no doubt that our journalist was guilty. The intervention took place a few days after the initial report.
By strange coincidence, just one day earlier, Arkadiusz Myrcha, a Civic Coalition MP, announced that he was submitting a complaint to the prosecutor's office because he received an e-mail in which someone threatened to "slaughter" him. "I will do it as brutally as I can"- the message read. However, there is no information that the police or the prosecution took immediate action in this case, as they did "to protect" the ruling party MP.
The way law enforcement authorities treated the "Wyborcza" journalist was by no means civil. Piotr was treated like a criminal; his presumed innocence was simply ignored. Respectable law enforcement authorities should have acted very differently. The journalist could have been summoned in writing earlier for questioning, and attempts could have been made to verify whether there were any grounds for such harsh measures as seizing work electronic equipment.
First of all, it should have been checked whether someone could have used the wifi network in Piotr Bakselerowicz's apartment. It could well be that someone was framing the journalist. Breaking the security of a home network is not particularly difficult. The police are well aware of that.
We treat the attempt to intimidate Piotr Bakselerowicz as a violation of journalistic freedom - the legally protected right of all journalists to keep their sources and information confidential. Interfering with this right requires a court order. There is simply no guarantee that the police or prosecutors will not get their hands on our journalist's sources or sensitive information.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that the authorities, acting at the discretion of the ruling Law and Justice party, will not install any materials on Piotr's computer meant to discredit him. Recently, the whole country saw how the ruling camp tried to manipulate the public opinion on the issue of migrants by presenting pictures of bestiality allegedly found on one of the refugees. It was quickly discovered that the already infamous photo of a "refugee with a cow" was in fact a still shot from an old pornographic video widely available online. This abominable propaganda was personally authorized by the head of the Ministry of Interior and the coordinator of special services Mariusz Kamiński.
We also consider this reprehensible intervention as a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress critical journalism - which is also a violation of the law. It is no coincidence that the target of this attack is a journalist associated with "Wyborcza". For years, our newspaper has been subjected to legal attacks and smear campaigns orchestrated by the ruling camp, its institutions, and organs. We have been flooded with dozens of lawsuits and now hold the inglorious record among all Polish independent media outlets.
The aim of such attacks is to achieve a "chilling effect", i.e. self-censorship. It is meant to intimidate free media and force them to stop criticizing those in power and their associates, to no longer keep them in check. This kind of legal attacks are widely known as SLAPPs - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
We, the editors-in-chief and heads of local "Gazeta Wyborcza" editorial offices, declare that we will use all legal means to protect our journalists from being harassed by the authoritarian government. We hereby declare that we will not let ourselves be intimidated and will not surrender to such repressive tactics. It is our civic and democratic duty to criticize all authorities and expose their abuses, including situations when the abuse of power is affecting our journalists and ourselves.
We ask all independent media in Poland and across the globe to show their solidarity.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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