A Spanish freelance journalist is spending his 10th week in detention in Poland while prosecutors investigate what they claim is a spy case linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a case that raises red flags about press freedom in wartime Europe, prosecutors are expected to ask a judge next week for another three-month extension to the detention of Pablo González, who worked at freelancing for media including La Sexta in Spain. television channel, the Spanish state news agency EFE and Voice of America, funded by the US government.
Prosecutors’ request must be filed by May 15, two weeks before his current three-month detention order expires. Under Polish law, González can be detained until he stands trial, a process that lawyers say could easily take more than a year.
Polish officials claim he is an agent of the notorious Russian military intelligence GRU.
“He carried out operations for the benefit of Russia, taking advantage of his status as a journalist, which allowed him to travel freely around the world and Europe, including areas of military conflict,” according to a spokesperson for the Polish Coordinating Minister for Special Services.
“A lot of evidence was obtained, which is now being analyzed in detail,” the spokesperson said, adding that González faces 10 years in prison for participating in “foreign intelligence activities against the Republic of Poland”.
Friends and family say the allegations are preposterous and have demanded that González be tried or released immediately. “I have no doubt that he is not a spy,” said Juan Teixeira, a Spanish journalist who traveled with him to many countries for a dozen years.
González, who was born in Russia and has dual Spanish and Russian citizenship, was arrested after officers from Poland’s Internal Security Agency (ABW) knocked on the door of his hotel in the border town of Przemyśl shortly after midnight February 27.
He was covering the refugee crisis and also planned to report from the Ukrainian side of the border.
González’s Polish lawyer, Bartosz Rogała, said he was fine and had been visited by the Spanish consul.
His wife, Oihana Goiriena, complained that family letters and packages were delayed or not delivered. “They include drawings by her children,” she told the Guardian.
Goiriena said her husband regularly visits his father in Russia.
González’s two passports give him different names. His Russian passport bears his father’s surname Rubtsov and Pavlov, the Russian version of Pablo, while his Spanish passport bears his mother’s Spanish surname, González. Supporters fear this could be taken as evidence that he was using pseudonyms.
This confusion arises because his parents divorced and his mother moved to Spain when González was a young boy, registering him under her surname. González’s maternal grandfather had been one of thousands of Spanish children evacuated to Russia during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
González speaks Russian, studied Slavic languages at university and specialized in the post-Soviet world.
In 2016, González’s name appeared on a list allegedly compiled by academic researchers of 49 Spanish journalists, politicians and activists whose Twitter comments were deemed “pro-Russian”.
“As someone who works on the ground in Ukraine…it’s a concern,” he said at the time.
He began having reporting problems in early February, weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion, when Ukrainian authorities questioned him as he waited for a live La Sexta link with military positions behind him. .
He was told to report to the Ukrainian intelligence service in Kyiv, where he was advised to leave the country but not officially expelled.
González sought advice from the Spanish consulate and then left for Poland. A few days later, agents from the Spanish National Intelligence Center (CNI) visited the family home near the town of Guernica and questioned his wife.
“There was nothing aggressive about it and they didn’t come into the house,” she said. “They suggested he might be pro-Russian. I don’t really know what that means, after all, a Russian national can be both pro-Russian and anti-Putin.
When González heard of the visit, he returned to Spain. But when war broke out, he immediately left for Poland. “He’s a journalist. This is how he earns his living,” Goiriena said. Friends said he also believed Ukraine would allow him to return.
The Paris-based NGO of journalists Reporters Without Borders is keeping a close eye.
“The Polish authorities must be more transparent about the evidence they hold against him, as so far information is scarce and detaining a journalist for months without trial is very serious,” a spokesperson said.
“Pablo González’s fundamental rights must be respected in Poland, an EU democracy.
González spent his 40sand birthday in jail last month.
Rogała, González’s lawyer, said he would ask the court to release his client without charge or, at least, release him on bail next week. The hearings will be held behind closed doors.