Police officers clash with demonstrators in Warsaw, Poland, on November 11, 2020. Police attacked journalists covering the protests. (Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/via Reuters)

Polish riot police attack journalists covering demonstrations

Berlin, November 16, 2020 — Polish authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate police attacks on journalists covering recent protests, hold those responsible to account, and ensure that reporters can cover events of public interest without fear of injury, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On November 11, during clashes between riot police and protesters in Warsaw, at least one journalist was shot with a rubber bullet that was fired by police, and police officers beat multiple journalists with batons and fired tear gas and pepper spray at members of the press, according to news reports and a journalist who spoke with CPJ. The attacks took place at the Independence March, an annual event organized by right-wing groups, which was held this year despite being officially banned due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to news reports.

“Journalists in Poland must be able to cover protests without fear that they will be attacked by police or demonstrators,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must investigate allegations that police attacked journalists at the recent Independence March, and hold those officers to account.”

Tomasz Gutry, a photojournalist for the weekly magazine Tygodnik Solidarność, was shot in the head with a rubber bullet fired by police as he was covering demonstrators clashing with police, and the journalist was hospitalized and required surgery to remove the bullet, according to a report by media news website Wirtualnemedia.

In a statement, Tygodnik Solidarność wrote that Gutry had his camera clearly visible and was shot from only a few meters away.

Police also beat Renata Kim, a reporter working for the newsmagazine Newsweek Polska, with a truncheon, hitting her in the hip, despite the fact that she was wearing a yellow press vest and shouting that she was a member of the media, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Kim told CPJ that she felt that police had targeted journalists at the protest.

Adam Tuchliński, also a reporter for Newsweek Polska, told the local trade outlet Press that police hit him in the back of the head with a truncheon and pushed him down a flight of stairs. He described the incident as being “brutally attacked.”

Jakub Kamiński, a photojournalist working for the East News agency, told Press that police hit him while they were chasing a crowd away, and said that a demonstrator attempted to steal and destroy his camera.

Riot police also threw a teargas grenade at a group of photojournalists covering the clashes, according to news reports and video of the incident shared on Facebook.

That video also depicts police officers beating reporters with batons. One of those journalists, Przemysław Stefaniak, a freelance photographer working for the news websites Krytyka Polityczna and OKO.press, told OKO.press that police pepper sprayed him, and then kicked and hit him on the legs and in the stomach, despite he and surrounding photographers shouting that they were members of the media.

Dominik Łowicki, a videographer for Gazeta Wyborcza, told news website Onet that police pepper sprayed and hit him in the back of his legs while he was holding up his hands and shouting “media.”

Sylwester Marczak, a spokesperson for the Warsaw Police, said that police did not target journalists during the protests, according to reports. Today, police issued a statement apologizing for any injuries that officers may have inflicted on journalists. 

CPJ emailed the Warsaw Police for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.