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The incident took place on Tuesday (November 16) at around 4:00 p.m. The entire situation was described by the Polish Press Club in a Facebook post. Assaulted were renowned photojournalists working for international media outlets: Maciej Nabrdalik (contributes to the New York Times, winner of World Press Photo contest, Pictures of the Year International), Maciej Moskwa (co-founder of the documentary collective Testigo), and Martin Divíšek (member of the European Pressphoto Agency).

In a note published on social media, the Polish Press Club writes: "As reported by the attacked journalists, prior to taking photos documenting the military presence in the village of Wiejki, they approached the gate, identified themselves to the guards as reporters, and let them know that they would be taking photos from afar. After taking the pictures, they got into the car and headed back to Michałowo. They were stopped by people wearing Polish Army uniforms, who dragged them out of the car, shoving them and using obscene language. All three journalists were handcuffed without their jackets and held for over an hour until the arrival of the police arrived on site. During this time, the uniformed men searched their car and looked through the camera memory cards, despite being explicitly informed that this would constitute a violation of the reporter’s privilege. The actions of the uniformed men were characterized by exceptional aggression".

All three photojournalists remained in handcuffs until the police arrived on site. Police officers did not determine the identity of the aggressors (who refused to identify themselves to the journalists) despite being explicitly asked to do so. They limited themselves only to informing the reporters about the possibility of filing a criminal complaint.

Ministry of Defense denies

The Operations Center of the Ministry of Defense was immediately informed about the incident. The assaulted photojournalists announced they will file a criminal complaint notice. They are in the possession of images of some of the aggressors.

Tomasz Krupa, the spokesman for the Podlasie region police headquarters, confirmed that such an incident indeed occurred.

- We don't talk about the details of what we have established so far - he said.

He admitted, however, that the people who attacked and handcuffed the photojournalists were soldiers from one of the units stationed near the scene.

On Wednesday morning (November 17), "Wyborcza" asked the Ministry of Defense to explain the situation. An answer came from the Ministry’s press department shortly before 11:00 am.

It reads: "We disagree with the use of terms such as: ‘Polish soldiers attacked photojournalists and were exceptionally aggressive’. The soldiers did not use violence. According to their own account, on Tuesday afternoon, soldiers stationed at the encampment in the village of Wiejki noticed three masked individuals photographing the camp and the military personnel. The encampment is protected by several security outposts and patrols. These individuals were walking along the camp wearing white face masks and hoods and had no external markings indicating that they were journalists. There were also no markings on the vehicle suggesting that it might belong to journalists. When asked to stop taking pictures, the men headed to their vehicle and tried to drive away".

Further, the Ministry of Defense emphasizes that: "In the meantime, appropriate authorities, including the police, were notified. The soldiers were instructed to detain these persons for investigation by an authorized body. The men indeed identified themselves, but presented their press passes only after some time. The soldiers involved deny being asked for permission to take photographs. Military security services, such as guards or emergency subdivisions, have the right to intervene".

Concluding its statement, the Ministry of Defense adds that: "It should be remembered that soldiers are on duty in conditions of escalating tension (on that day, migrants tried to storm the border and attacked Polish authorities) and are aware of the increasing use of methods of hybrid warfare. We all need to be aware of operating in an emergency situation. It is also worth noting that it was soldiers, not the journalists, who notified the police and other authorities".

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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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