The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the arrest of photojournalist Agata Grzybowska in Warsaw and called on Polish authorities to drop the charges against her immediately.
Grzybowska, an award-winning photographer who works for the RATS agency and co-operates with the Associated Press and Gazeta Wyborcza, was arrested as she documented a protest outside the Ministry of National Education in Warsaw on November 23.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said it marked the first detention of a journalist covering the month-long Women’s Strike protests in Poland and a worrying peak in the gradual escalation in police tactics used against the media in recent weeks.
“First it was the beating and tear gassing of photojournalists, then the hospitalization of a photojournalist shot in the face with a rubber bullet,” he said. “Now a photojournalist has been detained and charged on highly questionable grounds. This incident underscores that media workers covering recent protests in Poland are under unacceptable pressure and intimidation from law enforcement.”
He added: “It’s clear that that Agata Grzybowska was there in her professional capacity and that was simply doing her job. There does not appear to be any evidence to support the charges against her. The Polish police and the Ministry of Interior should ensure that these charges are dropped. We also call on authorities to halt all violence, harassment and detentions of journalists reporting on the protests.”
During the incident, Grzybowska was pulled from the crowd and then forced into a police van before being held at the police station for three hours prior to her released with charges of “violating the physical integrity” of a police officer.
Video footage of the moment of her arrest does not appear to show Grzybowska acting aggressively towards police, who had begun to remove people from the scene after one protester glued herself to entrance of the Ministry building.
In an interview with AP, Grzybowska said that one officer had been angered by her use of flash when taking photographs from within the crowd and then kicked her.
Police spokesman Mariusz Ciarka later said in an interview on TVN24 that officers had not been aware at the time that she was a journalist. Video shows Grzybowska clearly holding up her “press” ID to officers as they escort her away.
After her arrest, a large crowd gathered outside the police station in Wilcza Street in central Warsaw to demand the release of Grzybowska and others detained by police. MPs of the opposition party Civic Platform also attended to try and intervene on her behalf.
After she was released at around 7pm, Grzybowska reported that she had been charged with assaulting an officer. “I absolutely do not admit to the charges against me”, she said in a Facebook post.
Bartosz Wielinski, deputy editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, told IPI that the detention was another example that the change in tactics towards media by the Polish police under the PiS government, including the “unlawful detentions in order to hinder journalist’s work”.
Earlier this month, IPI condemned recent aggression and violence against journalists covering ongoing protests in Poland and called for both police and demonstrators to ensure the safety of the media covering rallies.
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.
Safety of journalists