Journalist accused of trespassing on veterinary clinic premises acquitted
On 7 March 2017, the District Court in Nysa acquitted Dominika Wolak, a journalist of the local newspaper Nowiny Nyskie, who was charged with a trespass after she refused to leave the premises of a veterinary clinic. The judgment is not yet final.
The case was monitored as part of the HFHR’s programme Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland.
Homeless cats at clinic
In mid-July 2016, the reporter was following up information received from readers on the conditions in which homeless cats received a sterilisation surgery at a local veterinary clinic that operated a sterilisation programme financed from the public purse. The reporter interviewed the owner of the clinic, who showed her the room where cats were kept. According to the journalist, cats were kept in inappropriate conditions.
After a few days, Dominika Wolak came back to the clinic to ask about the owner’s email address. Ms Wolak wanted to send the interview’s transcript to the owner in order to obtain her pre-publication approval. The journalist also wanted to check if the conditions in which the animals were kept improved.
Charges after intervention
According to the journalist, when she tried to take photos of the cat facilities, clinic personnel removed her from the room and took her to an adjacent room. There, the reporter and the owner continued a discussion. During the conversation, the owner gave her phone to Ms Wolak and dialled the numbers of the local mayor and the Animal Welfare Society. After a while, Ms Wolak decided to leave the clinic.
The owner reported the incident to the police. At first, she alleged that the journalist had trespassed on the clinic’s premises against her wish but later accused the reporter of not leaving the clinic despite her request. The Nysa police department charged Ms Wolak with the offence of trespass under Article 193 of the Criminal Code.
District Court’ judgment
Today, the court acquitted the defendant. In the verbal justification of the judgment, the court stated that it was fully satisfied that there has been no request to leave the clinic. Even if words of such meaning have been spoken in the heated discussion, the owner did nothing to enforce the request – not only she continued the conversation with the journalist but also gave her a phone and herself dialled the numbers. Another important fact was that Ms Wolak left the clinic on her own volition after she finished talking with the owner and made the calls from the owner’s phone.
Special protection for journalists “on duty”
“The court also noted that Ms Wolak’s visit had been closely related to her performing professional duties and emphasised that journalists who perform such duties were afforded special protection because they act in the public interest. Therefore, the court’s assessment of the reporter’s behaviour was not negative”, said Konrad Siemaszko, the HFHR’s lawyer who observed the trial.
Apart from the Foundation’s representative, the proceedings were monitored by observers from the Press Freedom Monitoring Centre of the Association of Polish Journalists.