9 months after the warrantless seizure of a Wyborcza journalist's work laptop by the police, the device was finally returned to its owner. It remains unclear, however, whether authorities had access to confidential information found on the device and thus violated the reporter's privilege.
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On Monday, Piotr Bakselerowicz, a journalist associated with Gazeta Wyborcza, received a phone call from a police station in Zielona Góra. The police officer on the other end of the line wanted to schedule an appointment for the next day to release to the journalist a laptop seized in the fall of 2021. To recap: on Saturday, October 2, shortly before 10 a.m., armed police officers in Zielona Góra raided Mr. Bakselerowicz’s apartment, demanding he hand over his electronic equipment, including his work computer and cellphone. Seizing the devices without a warrant or even a decision signed by a superior, the police have violated the journalist’s privilege to keep both his sources and sensitive data confidential. 

The pretext for confiscating the equipment was supposed to be an e-mail with death threats allegedly sent to one of the local Law and Justice party MPs from an IP address linked to a network used by the journalist. And although Mr. Bakselerowicz swore his innocence, explaining that he himself fell victim to a cyber-attack, and security experts from Agora (Wyborcza’s publisher) submitted an opinion that the email could not have been possibly sent from a company laptop (at the time, the journalist's computer was connected to the network through the company VPN, which generates a completely new IP address), investigators still refused to return the laptop for many months. Gazeta Wyborcza filed a complaint against the confiscation of company property, but the court dismissed it.

The laptop is released but questions remain

On June 7, prosecutor Arkadiusz Flis of the District Prosecutor's Office in Zielona Góra issued a decision to finally release the equipment, given that the case of death threats against the local ruling party MP has been dropped. The investigation was discontinued due to the lack of sufficient evidence of the journalist's guilt or a cyber-attack.

Wyborcza tried to learn why the journalist's laptop was held for so long and whether journalistic freedom has been violated during that time, but was denied access to the files. According to the investigators, the Gazeta Wyborcza journalist was never a party to the case. He acted as a witness in the investigation from the beginning and no one has ever brought any charges against him. Hence, he does not need to know the details.

Fot. Władysław Czulak / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

- We have not been able to review the files of the entire case, so we don't know why the seizure of the laptop took so long, or whether the reporter’s privilege has been violated- says Krzysztof Szymański, Piotr Bakselerowicz’s attorney and a long-time dean of the District Bar Association.

- The long duration of the entire case undermines the rule of law in Poland. I don't think there are any "big secrets" in that file, rather the passivity of the investigating officers will surface. Expert opinions were drafted quite quickly, witnesses were interviewed after several months... thus, a key question arises: why did it take so long? Another question is whether anyone involved in this investigation tried to crack the passwords to access the journalist's laptop- says Mr. Szymański.

He also requested access to the files through a "civil" route, as an ordinary citizen who is entitled to access to public information. The attorney cited relevant case law, but he was denied access as well.

Fot. Władysław Czulak / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

- In a polite letter addressing me as a private citizen, I was informed that releasing the file would be in conflict with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. And the Criminal Procedure Code trumps the Law on Access to Public Information. I beg to differ. Unfortunately, the answer was not given to me in the form of a decision that I could appeal in court. I wrote another letter hoping to receive a formal answer I would have the right to appeal- says attorney Szymański, confident that the case-law of the administrative courts works in the journalist’s favor.

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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 Russian invasion in Ukraine. Our journalists are on the front lines in 32 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs.

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