USAGM Watch EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
Charges of alleged spying for Russia were made against a Spanish journalist arrested several days ago in Poland. The journalist used to work as a freelancer for the Voice of America (VOA), a media entity of the $800-million U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for his immediate release. We contacted an independent Polish journalist who is a critic of the current Polish government. He views the charges against the arrested Spanish journalist with skepticism. The official Polish government statement and some Polish media reports mentioned alleged evidence found during the arrest. We were unable to contact anyone else beside VOA and a Polish journalist for comment. We received confirmation from the Voice of America that the arrested journalist was Pablo González who had done freelance reporting for VOA. The Ukrainian authorities detained and questioned González when he was in Kyiv in early February but later released him and advised him to leave the country, the CPJ statement said. According to the CPJ statement, the Spanish newspaper Público, for which the journalist filed reports, reported that ”Ukrainian authorities accused him of being ‘pro-Russian’.”
A Spanish journalist, whom the Polish authorities have detained and accused of being an alleged spy for the Russian military intelligence, used to work as a freelancer for the Voice of America (VOA) until July 2021, a Voice of America spokesperson employed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) confirmed in an e-mail to USAGM Watch in response to an inquiry. USAGM Watch, which is an independent U.S. government watchdog website staffed by volunteer journalists, found González’s name as a cameraman for a VOA video report posted last month. It appears that the VOA management hoped initially to hide the journalist’s connection to VOA.
An international media freedom organization came to the journalist’s defense. “Polish authorities must immediately release Spanish freelance reporter Pablo González and allow him to report freely,” said Attila Mong, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe representative. “Authorities should ensure that reporters can cover refugee movements and other vital stories of public interest without fear of prosecution, detention, or harassment,” CPJ’s representative said.
A Voice of America VOA News English-language website posted a VOA report on March 02, 2022, which mentioned the arrest of the Spanish journalist, but initially did not identify him as having formerly worked for VOA.
An independent journalist in Poland who is a Russia expert and a critic of the current government in Warsaw told USAGM Watch on condition of anonymity that he does not fully trust the Polish counterintelligence service to be objective and professional in making their accusations against the Spanish journalist. The Polish government’s statement said that “the suspect planned to depart for Ukraine.”
Pablo González has over 35 thousand Twitter followers as @PabVis. In one of his tweets from Poland, González countered disinformation that the Polish authorities did not allow non-white persons to cross the border from Ukraine.
His other tweets about Poland were also objective, while VOA’s own reporting about the Ukrainian refugee situation in Poland was substandard and the aid given by Poland and Polish citizens to Ukrainian refugees and separately to Ukraine was largely ignored by VOA English News.
The management of the Voice of America did not defend its former stringer. A VOA report about the situation in Ukraine, which briefly mentioned his arrest in Poland, did not identify him as having worked recently for VOA. In a report posted March 02, 2022 4:32 PM, as updated March 02, 2022 10:36 PM, VOA reported:
“Separately, Poland on Monday detained Pablo González, a Spanish freelancer covering the exodus of Ukrainians fleeing the war”VOA News Report, March 02, 2022
The same report later had this sentence added:
“He filed some stories for VOA in 2020 and 2021.”VOA News report, March 02, 2022
VOA did not note when this update was made. We believe it was made after USAGM Watch had sent an e-mail inquiry to VOA and USAGM public affairs officials Friday, as well as to VOA Acting Director Yolanda López and USAGM acting CEO Kelu Chao.
The VOA spokesperson told USAGM Watch:
“Pablo Gonzalez was a VOA stringer for the VOA News Center, however as he had not filed for us since July 2021, his VOA affiliation was not included in the VOA news coverage.
We were aware of his arrest…”VOA Spokesperson e-mail to USAGM Watch, March 04, 2022.
Later the VOA spokesperson informed USAGM Watch:
“The News Center updated the story: https://www.voanews.com/a/russian-strike-on-kyiv-tv-tower-kills-journalist-/6467412.html
NOTE: Separately, Poland on Monday detained Pablo González, a Spanish freelancer covering the exodus of Ukrainians fleeing the war. He filed some stories for VOA in 2020 and 2021.”VOA spokesperson e-mail to USAGM Watch, March 04, 2022.
The Voice of America report also included this information:
González, who contributes to Spain’s Público newspaper, was arrested and questioned in the Polish town of Rzeszów.
Ukrainian security previously detained González for several hours in Kyiv in early February. Ukraine at the time said González was reporting from military zones in Donbas without the necessary accreditation, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“Authorities should ensure that reporters can cover refugee movements and other vital stories of public interest without fear of prosecution, detention, or harassment,” CPJ’s Europe representative, Attila Mong, said in a statement.VOA News report, March 02, 2022.
González was arrested in the Polish border town of Przemyśl rather than Rzeszów.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS CPJ STATEMENT, March 01, 2022
March 1, 2022 11:24 AM EST
Berlin, March 1, 2021 — Polish authorities must immediately release Spanish freelance reporter Pablo González, explain the reasons for his arrest, and ensure that all members of the press can cover refugee movements without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
In the early hours of Monday, February 28, agents with Poland’s Internal Security Agency, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, arrested González in the southeastern Polish town of Przemyśl, where he had been covering Ukrainian refugee movements, according to multiple reports by the Spanish newspaper Público, where González is a regular contributor, and his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Boye told CPJ that the Polish prosecutor’s office confirmed the arrest and said González was being interrogated, but did not provide any further information concerning his status or the reason for his arrest.
“Polish authorities must immediately release Spanish freelance reporter Pablo González and allow him to report freely,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Authorities should ensure that reporters can cover refugee movements and other vital stories of public interest without fear of prosecution, detention, or harassment.”
González, a freelance reporter who specializes in covering the former Soviet bloc, last contacted Público on Sunday night, when he filed a report on refugees in Poland and told his editor that he was going to rest, according to those reports by the newspaper.
Previously, on February 6, agents with the Ukrainian Security Service detained Gónzalez for several hours in Kyiv and accused him of reporting from military-controlled areas in the Donbas region without proper accreditation, according to those Público reports, which said that Gónzalez denied having reported from restricted zones and was released without charge.
Público reported that Ukrainian authorities accused Gónzalez of being “pro-Russian” and advised him to leave Ukraine within three days.
Following his interrogation in Kyiv, agents with Spain’s National Intelligence Center visited Gónzalez’s friends and family members in Spain and asked about his life and career, according to Público.
CPJ emailed the Ukraine Security Service, Polish Internal Security Agency, and Spanish National Intelligence Center for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.
[Editor’s Note: The second paragraph was updated to reflect new information that González was arrested in Przemyśl, not in Rzeszów as earlier reports stated, according to a Polish Internal Security Agency statement.]
END OF CPJ STATEMENT
In a new statement on March 04, CPJ said:
“We are concerned by Poland’s indictment of Spanish freelance reporter Pablo González on charges of spying for Russia,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Polish authorities must guarantee that González has access to proper legal representation and a fair and transparent legal procedure, and ensure he is not sanctioned for his journalistic activities. Reporting is not a crime.”
CPJ emailed the Polish Internal Security Agency for comment on the case, and received a statement, which detailed that on February 28, González was arrested in the southeastern Polish town of Przemyśl, not in Rzeszów as CPJ and others initially reported. The journalist was charged under Article 30, paragraph 1, of the Polish Criminal Code for “participation in the activities of a foreign intelligence service,” which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. González is a Spanish citizen of Russian descent, according to the statement.
González’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, told CPJ via messaging app that the reporter has been questioned without the presence of a lawyer and has not had contact with anyone from abroad during the last four days. “Until now, neither his family or I have been able to speak with him and we are waiting for the Spanish consulate to arrange a permit for me to visit him in prison,” Boye said.
END OF CPJ MARCH 04 STATEMENT
The Polish Internal Security Agency statement did not identify the arrested journalist by name. According to the Polish government’s statement, the journalist was arrested on the night of February 27/29 in the Polish border city of Przemyśl. The Polish government statement included the allegation that the journalist was “identified as an agent of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the FR”( Russian Federation, abbreviated G.R.U.).
USAGM Watch takes a position that any person arrested in any country should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair and fully transparent trial.
According to the Voice of America website, Pablo González filed seven video reports for the Voice of America between October 13, 2020 and July 22, 2021. His video reports were read by a VOA narrator. However, he is listed as a camera person for a newer report for the Voice of America. The report about Ukraine by Ricardo Marquina, titled, “Ukrainians on Conflict’s Doorstep Prepare for War – Again,” is dated February 04, 2022. Ricardo Marquina has a large number of reports from Russia listed on the VOA website. It is not clear when and in what capacity González did his camera work for this VOA report in early February 2022.
Marquina tweeted that the accusations against his colleague are ”ridiculous.”
“I have worked with him in many places and I know he is a top-notch professional. We demand that the @MAECgob assist him properly and bring him home as soon as possible,” Marquina’s tweet said.
A Pablo Gonzalez report, posted on the VOA News website on March 18, 2021, is tilted, “Russian Troop Presence in Nagorno-Karabakh Raises Questions.” It starts with “Russian troops now ensure that peace prevails in Nagorno-Karabakh’s mountains after the battle for control between the Armenians and the Azerbeijanis left thousands of people dead in late 2020.” It quoted a political analysis as saying that “Russians arrive quickly, but they go very slowly.” Toward the end, the report quotes an Armenian volunteer saying that ” if we unite with Russia, all will be at peace.”