Journalist Pablo González: In solitary confinement in Poland

Journalist Pablo González: In solitary confinement in Poland

The Spanish-Russian journalist Pablo González has been accused of espionage for Russia since the end of February. There is no evidence.

In the foreground a cell phone with a photo of Pablo González, in the background his wife

Oihana Goiriena, Pablo González’s wife, shares a photo of him on her cell phone Photo: Reuters/Vincent West

It’s a nightmare. Ohiana Goiriena reads from her husband’s letters in a video conference with the taz: “I can only leave the cell for a walk in the yard, for the gym or for the daily search. I’m locked up about 23 hours a day on average.” This is how Pablo González describes to his wife everyday life in the Radom prison in Poland – an hour and a half drive south of the capital Warsaw. “Every time I go out, I’m handcuffed. The window cannot be opened, it is translucent, not transparent. Everything is full of cameras,” the 40-year-old writes in one of the six letters to his wife Ohiana that the prison administration has so far let through. “I don’t want to give any more details. Let’s leave it at that because of the kids,” he adds.

Even if the prison conditions look like it, González is not suspected of terrorism or organized crime. The man from the Basque country is a freelance journalist. He worked alongside Spanish TV channel La Sexta, the online newspaper Publico and the Basque sheet gara also for the Deutsche Welle and Latin American media. He reported first in Ukraine and then on the border with Poland, as of late February after the Russian attack tens of thousands of refugees arrived.

González was arrested twice. First on February 4 this year in Ukraine and then on February 28 in Poland by agents of the Polish domestic intelligence service ABW for “actions against the Polish state”. Since then he was first in Rzeszów, and now he is in Radom without official charges. The detention has been extended twice so far, the last time in August until November 25. González is accused of spying for Russia. There is no evidence and the evidence is more than questionable.

A possible reason for González’ arrest: When he was arrested, González had Russian identity papers in the name of Pavel Rubtsov with him – in addition to his Spanish passport. Pablo González was born in Moscow in 1982 and has dual nationality. His mother, a native of González, is the daughter of a so-called “war child” from Spain. These children were once taken to safety before the Franco coup in the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many war children and their descendants came back to Spain, including Mrs. González and her son. Pavel Rubtsov – his father’s surname – became Pablo González – his mother’s maiden name – in the Spanish office.

350 euros from Russia

Another indication that the Polish authorities believe should make the journalist suspect of espionage: González received a monthly transfer of 350 euros from Russia. “His father rented an apartment in Moscow and supports us with part of the income. That’s why he has two Russian credit cards,” explains his wife Goiriena to the taz. For eight months she has been trying to explain to her three children why all this is happening to their father.

Since the occupation of Crimea by Russia the Ukraine conflict was his topic for González. He studied Slavic studies and journalism in Spain and traveled frequently to the Donbas, which Russia has now also annexed. “He worked on both sides of the conflict and sat between all stools,” says Goiriena. The pro-Russian militias considered González too western, the Ukrainians a friend of Putin. On February 4, he was arrested and interrogated by the Ukrainian police. For the first time there was a suspicion of espionage for Russia. Then he was released. Days later he drove to the eastern Polish border, until a few days after the Invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine was arrested on February 28.

“Been monitored for a long time”

Just four days after González’s interrogation in Ukraine, eight men from the Spanish secret service, the CNI, visited the village of Nabarniz in the Basque mountains, which has a population of 250. It lies between Bilbao and San Sebastian. Goiriena and González live there. “They questioned me for an hour and left no doubt that we had been under surveillance for a long time,” says Goiriena. The secret service men also turned up at González’s mother in Barcelona. Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles confirmed “the visits” by the CNI to the press but declined to give further details.

Goiriena is worried: In the last two letters, her husband seems less combative and more depressed, she says. He lost 20 kilos. “Here in Spain, even prisoners from the separatist organization ETA are treated better than Pablo in Poland,” says Goiriena. González is largely isolated. She herself has not been allowed to visit her husband and the Spanish consul has only been let through four times in eight months. The Polish public defender answers Goiriena’s questions only taciturnly and late. He doesn’t talk to the press at all. González’s Polish defense attorney also did not respond to several telephone and telegram inquiries from the taz.

Tied to reasoning

In July, Goiriena posted a video on Twitter asking Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to intercede with the Polish President on behalf of her husband. A few hours later, at a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw, Sánchez was approached by a Spanish journalist. He replies: “We respect the rule of law and the Polish judiciary.”

There is a reason for Spain’s stance: Madrid, after the 2017 independence referendum, has consistently described the imprisonment of Catalan politicians as an “internal matter” to avoid international interference. It now evidently feels bound by this line of argument.

“Serious Human Rights Violations”

The Spanish lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who was chosen by González, is still not recognized by Poland as González’s defense attorney. “I couldn’t speak to him, the public prosecutor’s office or the judge,” complained the defense attorney from Madrid in an interview with the taz. “The Spanish government is only doing what is absolutely necessary,” says Boye. Despite the “severe human rights violations against González”, there were no initiatives from Madrid or the EU to put pressure on Warsaw. “From the point of view of EU law, this is a completely incomprehensible situation. Poland does not respect the Charter of Human Rights,” he adds.

At the request of the taz, the national director of the German Union of Journalists (dju) in ver.di, Monique Hofmann, commented on the González case. She compares this with the allegations of espionage Julian Assange: “We will participate in all actions and activities within the framework of our umbrella organizations EFJ and IFJ and our Spanish sister unions FAPE, FeSP, FSC-CC.OO and UGT in order to achieve the fastest possible release”.

Victim of geopolitical situation

Putting journalists in jail for no reason and holding them in pre-trial detention under adverse conditions for months without charge is “a hallmark of authoritarian states,” says Hofmann. However, the González case is still different from the Assange case. Because González is more of a victim of the geopolitical situation and the war of narratives. He was in the wrong place at the wrong moment – with a camera in the border area.

In an interview with the taz, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Anthony Bellanger, calls for clarification and the release of Pablo González. “When a journalist is arrested and charged, he should be informed of the charges and the evidence in order to challenge the allegations and defend himself. None of that happened in this case.” Bellanger considers the case “extremely worrying,” adding, “So journalists are intimidated and prevented from spreading the truth. These practices violate human rights and media freedom in a member state of the European Union.”

Pablo González and his wife Ohiana Goiriena now hope that the pressure from international civil society will have an effect. For now, however, González’s situation is likely to remain the same.

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