Wyborcza's journalist Katarzyna Włodkowska was ordered to reveal the identity of a confidential source she relied on while reporting on the Gdańsk mayor murder case. Meanwhile, after nearly three years, the prosecution still hasn't prepared an indictment against the man who committed the murder.
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The District Prosecutor's Office in Gdańsk for almost two years has been going after "Wyborcza’s" reporter Katarzyna Włodkowska because of her feature published on January 13, 2020. The text made it to print exactly on the anniversary of the assassination of Paweł Adamowicz, the Mayor of Gdańsk. Her piece entitled "I will sit two years and go out" referred to the statement of an informant who, from the perspective of a witness, described a meeting between Stefan W. and a couple of "thugs" in a car.

The killer supposedly got out of the car after ten minutes and told his friends that "he already knows what he is going to do". Did someone order Stefan W. to kill the mayor? The feature contains no such information. Instead, the reporter's findings indicated that the murder was planned and the killer knew perfectly well what he was doing while preparing for the attack.

The reporter also revealed an excerpt from a letter that Stefan W. sent to one of his brothers from prison: "I'll start with the good news. I thought that I would get a life sentence, but three psychiatrists decided that I was insane, which means that I will soon go to a hospital, probably in Starogard Gdański, and I’ll be able to leave the place every six months. I'll probably sit around for two years and then get out".

The reporter's findings contradicted the version of the experts appointed by the prosecution who led the criminal investigation. The investigators suggested that Stefan W. was insane, and therefore unaware of the nature and consequences of his actions. This means no guilt and no trial.

Katarzyna Włodkowska, reporterka 'Dużego Formatu'
Katarzyna Włodkowska, reporterka 'Dużego Formatu'  Fot. Rave Caven - Adrian Kulesza

The prosecution wants the reporter to reveal her source

The prosecution wanted the reporter to reveal her source, although the person asked to remain anonymous, fearing revenge and not trusting the authorities. Ms Włodkowska took the informant’s side, thus protecting a fundamental principle of the reporter's privilege: source confidentiality.

First, the public prosecutor's office in Gdańsk opened an investigation into the feature article, justifying it by claiming that the publisher revealed confidential information from the investigation. The case was then entrusted to investigators in Bydgoszcz. They spent a year and a half looking for the sources and eventually discontinued the investigation.

In October, that is nine months after the feature was published, Ms Włodkowska has been summoned for questioning. Prosecutor Agnieszka Nickel-Rogowska, who investigates Paweł Adamowicz’s murder case, wanted to know the name of the reporter’s source, even though the confidentiality principle can only be lifted by the court. After refusing to provide her informant’s personal information, the journalist was fined PLN 500. Only then did the prosecutor actually request that the court release Ms Włodkowska from her obligation to keep the identity of her source undisclosed.  

- The prosecution argues that Katarzyna Włodkowska's feature suggests that other people helped Stefan W. in planning and committing the criminal act- says Tomasz Ejtminowicz, "Wyborcza’s" attorney. - However, the article itself contains no such information. There is also no indication that the prosecution treated the possibility that the murder was commissioned by a third person seriously. If it did, operational activities would have been carried out in the first weeks of the investigation. This element appeared in the investigation only a year after the mayor's death, and after the publication of the feature in which the witness told "Wyborcza" what he had seen. Demanding that person’s data now only serves to persecute the journalist. And it proves the illusory character of the prosecutorial investigation.

Court battle

Then the court battle began. In January of this year, the regional court in Gdańsk granted the motion of the prosecutor's office, which was overruled two months later by the court of appeals following Ms Włodkowska's complaint. The court has ordered the prosecution to reopen the case and prove that it had first tried to establish anything on its own.

Another court decision came on March 22 - the district court decided not to lift the reporter’s privilege: "What follows from the article is only that the suspect was supposed to have met with some thugs, and after that meeting stated that he already knew what he was going to do. However, there is no indication whatsoever that these individuals were supposed to have ordered the murder of Mr Adamowicz, helped the suspect do it, or even that they may have inspired him to do it".

The court also pointed out that the text itself shows that the person who witnessed the meeting had no idea who the described people were. The court also emphasized that the extensive evidence gathered during the investigation did not contain any information pointing to the possibility that the murder has been commissioned.

The prosecution then appealed the order. The court of appeals again ruled that the case should be reconsidered, and in May, the district court agreed to question the reporter because the investigators' "evidentiary initiative" had been exhausted. "Wyborcza" appealed again.

On October 15, the Gdańsk Court of Appeals had lifted Ms Włodkowska’s reporter’s privilege, justifying its decision by saying that the "good of the justice system requires it".

- The good of the justice system is not the good of the prosecution - says Tomasz Ejtminowicz. - Citizens must believe that the police and the courts will protect them and pursue the truth. The role of a journalist is to keep these institutions in check, not to reveal the identity of their sources. Law enforcement agencies cannot take advantage of a journalist's work.

Ms Włodkowska's hearing in the Gdańsk prosecutor's office is scheduled on Friday, October 29.

- The very basis of this profession is loyalty. If a source asks to remain anonymous, I am obliged to protect his/her identity. If I gave in now, it would hit all journalists – says Katarzyna Włodkowska.

The reporter could face a fine and/or be jailed for up to 30 days for refusing to disclose the identity of her source.

The mayor’s murderer will go on trial

Meanwhile, there is still no indictment in the main murder case. In October, the team of experts who examined Stefan W. diagnosed that the killer’s capacity was diminished. It was the third consecutive opinion in the case about the suspect’s mental health.

The second opinion has been issued in mid-August 2020 by a team of medical experts led by Janusz Heitzman, MD, Associate Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw. Contrary to the specialists who prepared the first opinion, the doctors stated that at the time of the attack on the Gdańsk mayor, Stefan W. had limited mental functions. It was indicated that Stefan W. was motivated by a phobia against the Civic Platform [Poland’s main opposition party], which could have been fuelled by the hateful coverage aired by the public broadcaster TVP, which the suspect watched during his previous stay in prison (he was convicted for robberies).

Moments after stabbing Paweł Adamowicz on stage, Stefan W. shouted: "I was innocently convicted. The Civic Platform tortured me. That's why Adamowicz died." The mayor of Gdańsk died in hospital on January 14, 2019.

13 stycznia 2019 r. Na scenie WOŚP Stefan W. zadał Pawłowi Adamowiczowi śmiertelne ciosy nożem
13 stycznia 2019 r. Na scenie WOŚP Stefan W. zadał Pawłowi Adamowiczowi śmiertelne ciosy nożem  Fot. Bartosz Bańka / Agencja Wyborcza.pl


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