Polish state TV ordered to apologise over publishing messages of politician hacked with Pegasus spyware

Polish state broadcaster TVP has been ordered to publish an apology and pay 200,000 zloty (€46,220) compensation to Krzysztof Brejza for publishing private messages taken from his phone when he was the election campaign manager of what was then Poland’s main opposition party.

In a landmark ruling, the court confirmed that Pegasus spyware had been used on Brejza’s device. The former Law and Justice (PiS) government was accused of using that tool to surveil its opponents, with TVP then broadcasting the material to attack opponents of the ruling party.

‼️Sąd w Bydgoszczy: TVP ma tuż przed „Wiadomościami” przeprosić Krzysztofa Brejzę za opublikowanie jego prywatnej, wykradzionej przy pomocy Pegasusa i zmanipulowanej korespondencji SMSowej. @RadioZET_NEWS pic.twitter.com/U15ZT3aESv

— Maciej Bąk (@MaciejBk1) December 18, 2023

In a judgement issued today, the district court in Bydgoszcz ruled that TVP must apologise to Brejza for “publishing false, manipulated and distorted materials” and express regret for “violating [Brejza’s] personal rights in the form of [his] honour, good name, rights to privacy and confidentiality of correspondence”.

In its apology, TVP must acknowledge that it attributed to Brejza words that were actually said to him by others and also that it pieced together various remarks sent by Brejza to different recipients in a way that suggested they were part of a single statement.

Finally, the broadcaster has to admit that it used the material to create the false impression that Brejza was engaged in unlawful conduct, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

As well as the apology, the court ordered TVP to pay Brejza 200,000 zloty in compensation and 17,000 zloty in costs. The ruling can be appealed. TVP has so far not commented.

A politician whose phone was hacked when he was running the opposition’s election campaign says his case is just “the tip of the iceberg”.

He claims the hacking helped influence the outcome of the election by giving the ruling party inside information https://t.co/pbLE0RStMi

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 28, 2021

The court noted that the material in question was personal correspondence attributed to Brejza that was first published in an article on TVP’s news website and written by Samuel Pereira, a senior editor at the station, on 25 August 2019. It was then repeatedly shown on air afterwards.

At that time, Brejza was the election campaign chief for Civic Coalition (KO), then Poland’s main opposition group. KO subsequently lost the November 2019 parliamentary elections to the then-ruling PiS party.

The judge in the case, Ewa Gatz-Rubelowska, said in her oral justification of the ruling that “the evidence shows that from April to October 2019 there were multiple interventions on Brejza’s phone using the Pegasus spyware system”.

She noted that evidence of this surveillance was demonstrated, among others, by Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity united based at the University of Toronto. It has revealed evidence of Pegasus being used against a number of prominent opponents of PiS.

In our latest podcast, @stanleysbill talks to @jsrailton of @citizenlab about his work to uncover the Pegasus hacking of opposition figures in Poland.

„You can raise very serious questions as to whether the electoral climate counts as fully fair,” he says https://t.co/y1v5BvhKCM

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 24, 2022

The court found that TVP’s publication of the material was intended as an attack on the then-opposition’s chief of staff during the election campaign. Throughout its time in power, PiS has consistently used public broadcasters to support the government’s narrative and to attack the opposition.

“For the first time, a court has confirmed that my phone was infected with Pegasus, and for the first time it recognised that it could have influenced the course of the election campaign,” Brejza told broadcaster Radio Zet after the ruling. “These are the standards of Russia or Belarus.”

“They scanned my whole life,” the politician told news website Onet. “[They read] 80,000 messages from [a period of] ten years, [but] they didn’t find anything on me so they resorted to falsifying the content.”

“This is a case that shows how the public broadcaster operated during the PiS era,” added Dorota Brejza, the politician’s wife and lawyer in the case. “It shows that TVP has become a space of disinformation and lies that employs Russian standards.”

A Senate commission has found that Pegasus spyware was used illegally against opposition figures and that its use rendered the 2019 elections unfair.

The interior minister – who is among those accused of crimes by the commission – denies the accusations https://t.co/vwYUcAEXqf

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 8, 2023

After PiS lost power in this year’s elections, a senior TVP figure admitted that they had produced “worse propaganda” than under communism. The new coalition government, in which Brejza’s Civic Coalition is the largest grouping, has pledged to overhaul and depoliticise public media.

It has also said it will quickly set up a special parliamentary commission to investigate the use of spyware under the previous government and then legally hold to account any officials who violated the law.

Two other MPs who successfully stood as KO candidates in the most recent elections, Roman Giertych and Michał Kołodziejczak, have also been found by Citizen Lab to have previously had Pegasus spyware installed on their phones. Both are longstanding critics of the PiS government.

As well as ordering TVP to publish an apology – which must be broadcast on air and published on its news website – the court also ruled that three right-wing news websites, wPolityce, Niezależna and Fronda, must likewise apologise in relation to using the same material.

A prominent figure from state TV admits they produced „worse propaganda” than under communism to support the ruling party’s election campaign.

But he thinks this „Stalinist logic” backfired and contributed to the negative outcome of the election for PiS https://t.co/8CsLIeVgNz

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2023


Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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