On February 20, 2019, Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling PiS party, filed a criminal libel complaint at the Warsaw public prosecutor’s office against Wojciech Czuchnowski and Iwona Szpala, investigative journalists at the country’s biggest independent daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, according to their employer.
On January 29 and 30, Czuchnowski and Szpala had published reports alleging potential corruption in a skyscraper construction deal in Warsaw involving Kaczyński, the paper said. According to local media news website Wirtualne Media, Gazeta Wyborcza published several hours of phone conversations between Kaczyński and a businessman concerning the construction project.
When Gazeta Wyborcza reached out to Kaczyński for comment, he refused to answer the newspaper’s questions, according to Wirtualne Media. Instead, according to that report, after the articles were published, Kaczyński filed a criminal libel complaint against the journalists based on Article 212 of the Polish penal code, which can result in a fine or up to one year in prison.
Kaczyński did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Jaroslaw Kurski, deputy editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, told CPJ that the decision to sue under the penal code, rather than filing a civil complaint, showed that Kaczyński wanted the paper to “keep quiet” and “stop reporting on the corruption case.”
No charges have yet been filed against the journalists, and they have not yet been contacted by the public prosecutor’s office concerning an investigation, Kurski said. He added that the publication stood by its reporting.
The Warsaw public prosecutor’s office did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.