The editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska accused the Open Dialogue Foundation of being sponsored by Russian special services. However, before the court had even handed down its judgment, he still managed to turn the public prosecutor’s office against the people who run the Foundation, i.e., Lyudmyla Kozlovska and her husband, Bartosz Kramek.
“Mr Tomasz Sakiewicz, who is regarded as one of the most revered experts by those from the Law and Justice milieu, claimed outright that we were funded by the Russian services. The same innuendoes have subsequently appear all over the Internet. It is a mere cause-and-effect relation: first his words are said, and then hate speech targeting us and our Foundation is spread all over the web.” This is what Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), said before the court during the hearing in her action against Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska and Gazeta Polska Codziennie.
This time, the activist and her husband Bartosz Kramek, who run the Foundation together, demanded an apology and financial redress from the pro-government columnist for violating their personal rights by alleging that ODF was financed with money coming from the Russian military industry and was linked to the Russian special services.
“The Open Dialogue Foundation had very powerful supporters in Poland, who were hiding under their democratic disguises. We were warning that Russian money might be involved. There is something very sinister about a Foundation that takes part in a political upheaval in Poland getting money from foreign politicians.” This was said by Sakiewicz on the Free Voices programme on Republika TV on 23 April 2019. There are many more statements of a similar nature, such as:
“We are dealing with a situation in which the special services of various countries are sponsoring an organisation which is involved in financing coups in Central Europe, but which is also fighting against the Polish government”;
“Bartosz Kramek’s slogan: ‘Shut Down the Government’ had an effective impact, and members of our editorial team were taken to court in connection with our publications. We can prove that the Foundation took money from abroad and was engaged in subverting the Polish political system and the Polish government.” (statement on Polish Radio 24, later quoted by the Fronda web service, 23 April 2019)
Court orders an apology
Nearly four years after the lawsuit was filed, the Regional Court in Warsaw handed down a non-final judgment in the case, under which the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska was obliged to apologise to Kozlovska and Kramek for his allegations on TV Republika’s and Polish Radio’s websites.
The apology note to be released by Sakiewicz is to include the following statement: “I hereby declare that my publication contained untrue information, in particular regarding the sources of financing of the Open Dialogue Foundation and the ties to the Russian structures that I have suggested, which portrayed Mrs Lyudmyla Kozlovska, Mr Bartosz Kramek and the Open Dialogue Foundation in a negative light, thus exposing them to a moral and financial loss. The statement has been published as the result of a lost court case.”
In addition, the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska is to pay the plaintiffs a total of PLN 30,000 in damages, plus interest. The judgment is not yet final.
Sakiewicz notifies disciplinary officers and the prosecution service
This is another court victory for ODF against Tomasz Sakiewicz. Last August, we reported on the activists’ legal victory in a lawsuit for the 2017 cover of Gazeta Polska with a photoshopped image of Bartosz Kramek as a Wehrmacht soldier. The Court of Appeal found that Bartosz Kramek had been the victim of stigmatisation and slander.
A few months after that ruling, Sakiewicz filed a complaint with the disciplinary officer against Judge Tomasz Jaskłowski, who, while still hearing the case at the regional court level, also issued a judgment ordering the publicist to apologise. As a consequence, the local disciplinary officer and neo-judge Adam Jaworski brought four disciplinary charges against Judge Jaskłowski. As Mariusz Jałoszewski reported via OKO.press, two of these charges concerned the handling of the slander case against Sakiewicz, in which Judge Jaskłowski was alleged to have committed a “clear and flagrant violation of the law” and was alleged to have “compromised the dignity of the office of judge”.
The editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska also involved the prosecution service in his dispute with the Open Dialogue Foundation. In his notice filed in July with the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw he reported at the hearing on 30 June 2023 (as part of the case brought by Kozlovska and Kramek for suggesting that they were financed by Russian services), the activists, despite “being informed of their duty to tell the truth, gave testimonies that were completely inconsistent with that truth”. “The notice described two possible offences, i.e., providing false testimonies (…) by Ms Kozlovska and Mr Kramek at court, and the violation of state secrets, because this was exactly the content of the testimonies provided by the couple, that they got hold of some secret documents of the Internal Security Agency, acting through the Moldovan special services, and this was where they got their knowledge from. Either way, a crime was committed,” he explained to the Polish Press Agency.
According to Sakiewicz, Kozlovska lied in response to a question he asked about how she came to know the contents of the Internal Security Agency report on herself (i.e., the document under which ODF’s President was entered into the Schengen Information System in 2018 and has since been banned from entering Poland). The Ukrainian-born activist said during the trial that she obtained information about the report from the Moldovan secret services. However, Sakiewicz did not believe her words. He reported that the Moldovan service denied having any contact with Kramek and Kozlovska and that the matter should be investigated. Barely a week after the notice from the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska was received, the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation.
“Tomasz Sakiewicz is not a journalist, but a mercenary slanderer in the service of the Law and Justice party. He has no moral qualms whatsoever. He has lost to us in court for the umpteenth time, but I fear that, thanks to a financial drip from the State Treasury, he will swallow his defeat without batting an eyelid,” says Bartosz Kramek to Wyborcza. In fact, state-owned companies are buying up hectares of advertising space in newspapers managed by Sakiewicz. According to estimates made by a media expert, Professor Tadeusz Kowalski, in 2021 alone, more than 40 per cent of Gazeta Polska’s advertising revenue came from state-owned companies.
Bartosz Kramek underlines that the newest judgment fully addresses the Foundation’s claims. In the activist’s opinion, Sakiewicz’s actions illustrate how, in a state ruled by the Law and Justice party, private interests are intertwined with public ones. “Deploying Minister Ziobro’s enforcers, or so-called ‘disciplinary officers’, on judges passing sentences that do not follow his expectations is just one of his methods. Another method is to file bizarre notices with the Public Prosecution Service against his opponents in civil lawsuits. Obviously, both the disciplinary officers and the public prosecution are very eagerly positioning themselves as errand boys serving Sakiewicz. And all of this is done for the benefit of the ruling party and at the taxpayer’s expense,” Kramek points out.
The activists have been in trouble since 2017
The Open Dialogue Foundation focuses on the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Poland and Eastern European countries. However, since 2017, Kozlovska and Kramek have faced a huge wave of hate speech and harassment from the state governed by the Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Trouble was brought upon them by Kramek’s article published during the protests in defence of free courts in July 2017, in which he proposed “how to stop the Law and Justice Party’s assault on the rule of law in Poland” based on the experience of Ukraine’s Euromaidan. The special services subservient to the Law and Justice declared him a putschist, ODF was subjected to a number of different controls, and the pro-government media competed among themselves for texts vilifying Open Dialogue Foundation. “Five years ago, virtually overnight, I became one of the major public enemies of this government,” said Bartosz Kramek in an interview.
Since then, the activists have moved from one trial to the next and won one court case after another. We have already reported on, among other things, the non-final rulings in cases concerning the violations of personal rights by PiS MEP Dominik Tarczynski and the deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, Maciej Wąsik. The politicians have been obligated to apologise to the Foundation, to Kramek and to his wife, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, for their false allegations. In addition, an apology for his unfounded accusations of money laundering must also be made by the head of the Law and Justice party’s election campaign and MEP, Joachim Brudziński, (non-final judgment).
The activist couple brought a total of 20 lawsuits against politicians and journalists in response to their assaults on the Open Dialogue Foundation.The court cases concern, among others, Witold Waszczykowski, Joachim Brudziński, Patryk Jaki, Maciej Wąsik, Krystyna Pawłowicz, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Ryszard Czarnecki, Szymon Szynkowski, Dominik Tarczyński, Tomasz Sakiewicz, Witold Gadowski, TVP, Polskie Radio and Fratria – the publisher of wPolityce, PiS-friendly information service and Sieci weekly. Overall, the activists are claiming almost PLN 1.7 million. Court proceedings are still pending.