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Journalist won’t be prosecuted for trespass

The District Court in Nysa has discontinued the case of Dominika Wolak, a journalist of the local newspaper Nowiny Nyskie, who was charged with trespass during a journalistic intervention at a veterinary clinic. This is an important decision in the context of journalists’ right to collect information.

The case was dismissed due to a negligible social harm presented by the journalist’s actions. The court emphasised that the journalist acted in public interest at a direct request of a group of worried residents of Nysa, who asked her to check the conditions in which animals were kept at the clinic. The decision, made on 31 January 2018, is not yet valid.

The HFHR has monitored the case.

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.

Retrial in District Court

This is already the third court decision in the case. In the first judgment of 7 March 2017, the court acquitted the defendant and considered 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. In a verbal justification of the judgment, 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 (To find out more about the case, use this link).

Later, on 25 July 2017, the Regional Court in Opole reversed the first instance judgment and ordered a retrial, holding that the evidence available in the case must be re-evaluated.

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