Polish authorities try to seize magazine's files

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Associated Press

Posted on June 18, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 18 at 7:37 PM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish police and state prosecutors on Wednesday raided the headquarters of a magazine that recently published compromising information about the government, in a failed attempt to seize its computers.

In scenes broadcast live on Polish TV, Sylwester Latkowski, the editor of the weekly Wprost, said he resisted demands of authorities to hand over his laptop and pen drive and would only do so if he received a court order first. He said agents twisted his arm in order to get the laptop, and they left after a few hours without the materials they sought.

A lawyer for the magazine, Jacek Kondracki, said the magazine would sue the authorities for violating press freedoms.

"We are not living in Putin's country or in Belarus," he said, referring to President Vladimir Putin's Russia, which has faced criticism for curbs on press freedoms.

A spokeswoman for the state prosecutors, Renata Mazur, said the search was ordered after Latkowski refused to hand over the recordings. She said the aim was to obtain evidence, not violate journalist secrecy.

In Poland, journalists are obliged to protect their sources if they request anonymity, and only a court order can waive that.

Mazur said prosecutors pulled back out of fear for their security, under an "escalating conflict." The magazine's offices were filled with cameramen and reporters who stormed into a closed room where Latkowski was meeting with the prosecutors.

The sweep comes just days after Wprost published information from secretly made recordings of a restarant conversation last July between National Bank of Poland chief Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, in which they discussed how the central bank might use its power to help the government win re-election in 2015.

Critics have decried the apparent collusion as a violation of the bank's independence from political interference. Earlier Wednesday, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said the government was facing a crisis and urged its leaders to consider in their consciences whether to resign over the scandal.

"It cannot go on this way," a visibly angry Komorowski said during a visit to the northern city of Sopot. "We must feel responsibility for Poland, for its institutions. We must aim to clarify the most difficult issues and expect a decent behavior, starting with ourselves."

The opposition has called for the government to step down, but Prime Minister Donald Tusk has defended the two leaders, saying the conversation was in Poland's interest, and that the secret bugging amounts to an attempted coup.

Also Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski said he discussed with Tusk the possibility of holding an early election to help calm the political turmoil.

The manager of the restaurant, identified only as Lukasz N., was detained for questioning and has been charged with two counts of criminal wiretapping. In Poland, bugging or wiretapping to get unauthorized access to information is punishable by up to two years in prison.

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