The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the ongoing legal harassment against the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and state-owned entities.
In the latest case, Gazeta Wyborcza journalist Wojciech Czuchnowski appeared in court on November 29 in a libel suit brought against him by PiS over a satirical comment Czuchnowski posted about the party on Twitter.
The tweet – “I will never again write about the mafia of PiS” – came after a story published by Czuchnowski in November 2018, which revealed an alleged bribery affair involving the head of Poland’s Financial Supervisory Commission and a Polish billionaire and banking mogul.
According to the newspaper, when the president of the Polish Central Bank, Adam Glapinski, said publicly that the journalist’s reporting had “subverted” the Polish financial system, Czuchnowski posted the “mafia” comment on Twitter as joke.
PiS is demanding an apology and a payment of PLN 15,000 (€3,500) to a charity. In court last week, Czuchnowski, who represented himself, said the claim was “manifestly unfounded” and called for common sense to prevail. A verdict is due at Warsaw District Court on December 13, 2019.
“The libel lawsuit against Wojciech Czuchnowski is merely the latest in a string of cases filed against Gazeta Wyborcza clearly designed to harass the newspaper and its journalists for reporting and commenting on issues of public interest”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “This groundless lawsuit should be tossed out, and we again urge Polish officials to end their abuse of the law to target critics.”
PiS had previously sued Czuchnowski for his use of the term “mafia state” in a case that went to Poland’s Supreme Court, which ruled in the journalist’s favour.
The list of libel cases against Gazeta Wyborcza continues to grow. Earlier this year, the paper was the target of criminal libel charges filed by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński after it publishing reports about his alleged involvement in the construction of a 190-meter-tall skyscraper in Warsaw.
In all, around 50 criminal and civil cases have been brought against the newspaper by various state or state-controlled institutions against the newspaper. They include:
• Five lawsuits by the National Prosecutor’s Office concerning only one article which Gazeta Wyborcza already corrected
• Two cases by the central bank (NBP) about critical articles on outrageous salaries granted to the loyal assistants of the NBP president;
• Three cases by TVP, ‘national’ television financed by Polish taxpayer, against the newspaper’s journalist for putting under scrutiny its huge expenditure on several propaganda events;
• Three lawsuits by Polish Armament Industries Group (PGZ), the largest state-owned weapon producing conglomerate, for criticism of one bidding procedure;
• A lawsuit by the Ministry of Public Health for criticizing its drug policies;
• A lawsuit brought by the World War Two Museum in Gdansk for criticising its new management and changes to the main exhibition
• Two criminal suits brought by National Forests, state-owned agency in charge of all public woods, for criticising its extensive logging practices and timber harvesting system, which lead to overexploitation of Bialowieza Forest, a world natural preserve.