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Journalist Held on Spy Charge in Poland Takes Case to European Court

FILE - Oihana Goiriena, wife of journalist Pablo Gonzalez, shows a picture of her husband on her phone, after he was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 5, 2022.
FILE - Oihana Goiriena, wife of journalist Pablo Gonzalez, shows a picture of her husband on her phone, after he was detained by Polish authorities on espionage charges, in Nabarniz, Spain, March 5, 2022.

In letters from prison, freelance journalist Pablo Gonzalez said that secret service agents told him to “eat flies or insects” if he wanted to keep up his protein levels.

Gonzalez, who has been in custody in Poland for eight months — nearly entirely in solitary confinement — said in the letters seen by VOA that he does not receive enough food so is forced to buy provisions from the prison.

Classed a “dangerous prisoner” by Polish authorities, the journalist, who has no criminal record, said he is handcuffed and accompanied by up to five guards every time he leaves his cell.

Gonzalez is now taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, seeking to secure his release on the grounds that the terms of his imprisonment contravene his constitutional rights.

In Madrid on Tuesday, media organizations and lawyers held a demonstration in front of Spain’s Foreign Ministry in support of Gonzalez and delivered a letter of protest to the Polish embassy in Madrid.

Poland in February ordered Gonzalez held in pre-trial detention while authorities investigate allegations that he was spying for Russia — accusations the journalist has denied. That pre-trial period was extended in August for a further three months.

Poland’s secret service claims Gonzalez used his role as a journalist as a cover for espionage, but officials have not publicly disclosed any supporting evidence.

The legal papers seen by VOA do not comment directly on that investigation. Instead, they say that the status of “dangerous prisoner” is groundless.

“It gives rise to a number of consequences that undermine [his] rights, his dignity and his health,” the court papers said.

Legal papers also said that letters sent to Gonzalez are being opened and translated by the prosecutor and kept for weeks or months before they are delivered. The journalist claims this violates the constitutional right to family life.

Gonzalez has had contact only with his Polish lawyer and the Spanish consul but has been denied phone calls or visits from family and supporters in Spain and Poland, according to people familiar with the case.

“Gonzalez lives in physically and mentally unbearable conditions; his cell where he is alone, has one window that does not open,” the papers add.

A spokesperson for the Polish prosecutor’s office told VOA in a statement that “due to the nature of the proceedings” it could not disclose any details of the case against Gonzalez.

The statement said, “Gonzalez has all the rights and obligations resulting from the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Executive Penal Code including the conditions of isolation in pre-trial detention as well as telephone contacts and visits.”

Visits denied

Gonzalez has covered conflicts in Ukraine and Syria for various outlets including Voice of America, the left-wing Spanish paper Publico, and Gara, a Basque nationalist newspaper.

Gonzalez did some camera work for VOA in 2020 and 2021. At the time of his arrest, VOA released a statement saying that it had removed his content “out of an abundance of caution” and informed the VOA/USAGM security office of the arrest.

The journalist has dual Russian and Spanish nationality. His family moved to Russia after the Spanish Civil War, but Gonzalez is not part of Russia's secret intelligence service, his Polish lawyer Bartosz Rogala said.

The journalist’s detention is hard on his family who say that Gonzalez is not allowed to speak with his wife, Oihana Goiriena, or their three children by telephone. Visits are forbidden.

“In the letters, Pablo does not include all the details about his captivity because it might upset the children,” Goiriena told VOA from their house in the Basque Country, northern Spain.

“The boys are starting to ask questions about when their father might be home and I don’t have the answers,” she said. “I expect they will extend the custody so he is still in prison at Christmas, which will be hard.”

A court in Poland ruled in August that Gonzalez must remain in custody for a second three-month period until November 25. Under Polish law, he can be held for up to a year. If convicted, the journalist could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Alfonso Bauluz, president of Reporters Without Borders in Spain, said the watchdog objects to the "breaching of Pablo's basic human rights."

"We protest against the lack of presumption of innocence, the lack of judicial aid and the extremely tough prison conditions in which he is being held, despite not being convicted of any offense," he told VOA.

A spokesperson for the Polish prosecutor’s office told VOA that the order detaining Gonzalez until November indicates “a high probability of committing the alleged acts as well as a justified fear of procedural fraud, hiding or fleeing.”

The 40-year-old war reporter has seen the Spanish consul seven times since his detention.

Earlier this month, Jose Manuel Albares, the Spanish foreign minister, told the country’s senate, or upper house, “The government attaches great importance to the case of Mr. Gonzalez. Since the arrest became known, numerous steps have been taken at different levels, both from the ministry and the Spanish Embassy in Warsaw.”

The ministry told VOA it could not disclose some details of the case.

A Spanish foreign ministry spokesperson, who did not disclose their name as is customary, said, “Our role is twofold: to urge the Polish government to respect the rights of Mr. Gonzalez and to facilitate consular visits.”

Gonzalez was arrested at a hotel near Poland’s border with Ukraine on February 28.

Earlier in 2022, Ukrainian secret service officials questioned the journalist and accused him of spying for Russia, which he denied. He returned to Spain for a few days before leaving for Poland.

Editor's note: The sixteenth paragraph has been updated to clarify the terms of Gonzalez's imprisonment.