European Federation of Journalists

Poland: Spanish journalist Pablo González in custody for one year on charges of spying for Russia and no trial in sight

Credits: Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in February 2022. Credits: Pablo González's Twitter.

A Polish court extended Pablo González’s pre-trial detention for the fourth time on 15 February 2023, meaning he will spend up to a further three months in prison. The Spanish freelance journalist was arrested on 28 February 2022, accused of being “an agent of Russian intelligence”, while covering the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Ukrainian border. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) and their Spanish affiliates call on the authorities to release González without further delay, and ensure he will receive a fair trial.

“The case is still in the Prosecutor’s Office. This is an investigation, and it is not known how long it will take. In Poland, investigations in large cases take up to several years,” his Polish lawyer, Bartosz Rogała said. “In my opinion, the case will go to the Court at the earliest in the middle of this year,” he adds.

“There are no maximum terms for detention in Poland,” Mr Rogała noted. “Pre-trial detention, even for several years, is common in large cases. If someone is from abroad, the Court often recognizes that there is a fear of escape, which is one of the reasons for arrest,” the lawyer concluded.

The journalist’s defence has appealed against each decision of the court to extend pre-trial detention. Until today, there is no trial date in sight, nor has the evidence against him been made public.

In the early hours of 28 February 2022, González was arrested by agents of the Internal Security Agency (ABW), the Polish counter-intelligence service, on the Polish-Ukrainian border, where he was reporting on the humanitarian crisis, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Polish authorities alleged that the reporter, who holds Spanish and Russian nationality, had been in possession of two passports with different names. The issue was quickly clarified as González’s Russian passport identifies him as Pavel Rubtsov, using his father’s surname; and his Spanish document as Pablo González Yagüe, using his mother’s two surnames.

On 8 March 2022, the IFJ and the EFJ submitted an alert to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism, which has not been replied to by Polish authorities.

In September 2022, González submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights for violation of his rights and, in particular, for his classification as a ‘dangerous prisoner’. Although he is no longer classified as such, the reporter remains in the same department of the Polish penitentiary system for dangerous prisoners, meaning that he is isolated 23 hours per day, remains handcuffed when leaving his cell, and is placed under strict monitoring.

The Association #FreePabloGonzález, created by his family and friends, has denounced the lack of transparency and information around the case. “Communication with him is very limited. It takes around three months for his letters to arrive from Poland to Spain. His wife and mother of his children, Oihana Goiriena, was allowed to visit him for the first time at the end of November, after 9 months in jail,” explained his close friend and spokesperson of the association, Juan Teixeira. “No other journalist in the European Union is detained in another member state under such conditions.”

González, who specialises in the post-Soviet world, was a regular contributor to the Spanish daily Público and was reporting on the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Ukrainian border for several Spanish media outlets, including La Sexta.

“The release of Pablo González is an ethical requirement, especially in an EU country that supposedly defends freedom of expression,” said Miguel Ángel Noceda, President of the Federation of Spanish Journalists’ Associations (FAPE). “We demand once again that the Polish authorities resolve the situation with the maximum legal guarantees and in favour of the Spanish journalist after a year of obscurantism,” he adds.

The Federation of Citizen’s Services of Comissiones Obreras(FSC-CCOO)said: “It is unacceptable for a state to detain a journalist in such an arbitrary manner and we therefore urge both the Spanish State and the EU to do everything in their power to put an end to this injustice once and for all. […] A state that does not guarantee freedom of the press and the safety of journalists cannot be considered a true democracy.”

Agustín Yanel, Secretary General of The Federation of Journalists’ Trade unions(FeSP) declared: “It is unheard of and totally reprehensible that an EU Member State that claims to be democratic should keep Pablo González in prison for a year, without trial and without respecting the most elementary rights that any detained person should have”.

“The Polish authorities must release him provisionally as a matter of urgency and guarantee that he will receive a fair trial with guarantees,” he added.

The Association of Journalists in Spain (UGT) insisted that it is unacceptable that a government that claims to be democratic can keep a prisoner in custody for a year. “We call for the immediate release of Pablo González and for him to be tried with all the guarantees and with the consular support of the Spanish Government”.

In a joint statement, the IFJ and EFJ have renewed their calls on the Polish government to release González without further delay. “It is unacceptable for a member state of the European Union to detain a journalist in such an arbitrary manner. It is an attack on media freedom and democracy.”