The journalist Pablo González is serving ten months in prison this Christmas, since he was arrested on February 28 in Poland. He had traveled there to cover, working as a freelance for various media, the refugee crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Polish prosecutor's office accuses him of being a spy at the service of Moscow, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, although his family and professional environment flatly deny the accusations. His wife, Oihana Goiriena, focuses on the precarious conditions in which she lives and demands protection from the Spanish Government.
What is the last thing you know about your husband?
On November 21, I was able to visit him, after many months requesting it and after nine months without speaking to him, not even on the phone, since he was allowed to call me when he was arrested. They gave me permission for a two-hour visit, and it was very exciting. That's the last thing I know. Then, on November 23, the Spanish consul was able to visit him, who has visited him seven times in total.
And by letter? Have you heard anything else?
In recent weeks, between the end of November and the beginning of December, we have received two, but they are from before that visit. They are from September 29 and October 14; they always arrive months late and with the red seal of having passed a filter.
On a personal level, did you come out better or worse from that visit to prison?
I came out better, for having seen him and for having been able to talk to him after so many months and, above all, with the joy of knowing that he will have come out of the visit strengthened. It is very hard for the family, but he is going through the worst moments, who is alone and practically incommunicado. It fills me to think that the visit has served to give him a boost. In any case, I left with a bittersweet feeling because I saw him very deteriorated. He has lost at least 20 kilos. I know you are hungry and cold. His diet does not cover his needs and many times they do not allow him to buy food with the money we send him. In addition, the temperatures have dropped a lot and do not allow him to shelter properly.
In what conditions do you live?
He is in a maximum security module because he has been classified as a dangerous prisoner. So he's in a jail within a jail, using his own terms. He is in a tiny cell, with a window that does not open and is opaque, and he spends 23 hours a day there. One hour a day he goes out into a patio measuring seven by four meters. In some letter he tells us that he will have to learn to walk again, to walk straight, because there he has no space to walk. He spends his time reading, writing and exercising, although the lack of nutrients is forcing him to abandon that routine. Right now he doesn't even take advantage of that hour that he has a day to go out, due to the extreme cold. He is practically incommunicado, starving and cold.
Beyond the underlying accusations, which you flatly deny, your family and relatives are demanding that your rights be respected and that you have access to a fair and immediate trial. They extend their claims not only to Poland, but also to the Government of Spain.
It seems to us that the position of the Government of Spain is being very lukewarm. It is supporting the actions of the Polish Government, when in reality it should simply defend the rights of a citizen with a Spanish passport. We don't ask for more. We demand that they demand that Poland guarantee their basic rights as a prisoner and as a person. We demand that he be able to communicate with his family, that it does not take nine months for a visit, and that he can talk to his children, even if it is by phone. We ask that you have access to an attorney of his choosing and that you be able to visit him to speak face-to-face. And, of course, we ask that you have access to an immediate and fair trial. We demand that provisional detention not be prolonged sine die, in search of evidence that they said they had and that they do not have. If they don't have them, as is the case, they let him go free.
Let's get to the bottom of the case. What do you know about the accusations against Pablo González?
We know very little; officially the only thing that has reached us is the accusation of espionage. That was leaked through a Polish ministerial spokesman, with information alluding to the fact that he had two passports, Russian and Spanish. It is what we know.
From the beginning they have linked the arrest with the Russian origin of Pablo and his family, something that would explain the fact that he traveled with two passports.
We believe that he had a lot to do with his arrest. Paul was born in Moscow; His maternal grandfather was one of the children evacuated during the Civil War. He made his life in Russia and got married there. Pablo's paternal family is also Russian. His father and his mother lived there until they divorced. So, Pablo moved with his mother to Bilbao for a year, and then they settled in Catalonia. He spent his youth there, studied Slavic Philology and later studied for a master's degree in Journalism. As a journalist, he has specialized in the post-Soviet space. Pablo settled in the Basque Country when we met, when he was 23 years old and I was 30. It may be surprising that he is fluent in the Russian language, that he has learned it at home, or that he has dual nationality, but his life path is what it is. All of us who know him know it, for us he is Pavel, and we know where he comes from.
Some of his colleagues at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), where he was doing a doctorate, or journalists with whom he worked have linked the arrest to his freelance work in Donbas.
Pablo interviewed everyone who agreed to answer his questions, tried to talk to all parties. When he was there he visited the trenches and interviewed both the Azov battalion people and the pro-Russian soldiers. We believe that some of the suspicions may come from there. Why? Above all because when he returned, from that trip, he was included in a list of journalists branded as pro-Russian, a document subsidized by the Open Society, by George Soros. We believe that since then he may have been marked. I did not follow all of his publications, because he also worked with many media, but from what Público or his partner Juan Teixeira told me, he was quite critical of Putin.
Curiously, you can still read his position against the war on his twitter.
Sure, he was against the war and, in fact, when I asked him, he was convinced that there was not going to be a war.
A few weeks before his arrest, Pablo was interrogated in the Ukraine. What happened?
He was working there as a journalist, at the beginning of February, and received a call from the Ukrainian secret services asking him to come to Kyiv. They questioned him and accused him of reporting with a Russian bias. I think that if the war had not started, the same thing would have happened in Poland: he would have been invited to leave, period.
Parallel to that interrogation in Ukraine, the CNI visited your family home, here, in Nabarniz. What explanation do you give to that episode?
I still can't explain it to myself, because it wasn't even an interrogation. They limited themselves to telling us that they knew that he was born in Moscow, that he had studied Slavic Philology or that we traveled to Russia on vacation. Of course, to see his father. The trembling did not go away in days, but the truth is that they limited themselves to giving us data that, to put it in some way, are public. I wonder if what they were looking for was to stop him from traveling anymore, not to report in a way that doesn't go with the prevailing official line.
Do you understand that there are people who may doubt the version that they hold from Pablo's family environment?
I understand it in the case of those who don't know him and have those passport details, that he maintained Russian nationality and speaks Russian or that he has been in conflict zones... But anyone who knows Pablo knows that he is not a spy. You have to know it (smiles)... You see it and simply because of the physical you say "it can't be". He is like an elephant in a china shop...
Can the fact that Spain has played such a lukewarm role in defending her husband contribute to this mistrust?
It may be, but there is a piece of information that Pedro Sánchez gave it. At the time, he said "we respect Polish legality, just as we would like Spanish legality to be respected". It is today for you and tomorrow for me. I'm no expert, but I found it very significant.
Does the position of the Government hurt you?
Yes, the position of Minister José Manuel Albares hurts me and also the pronouncements of Minister Margarita Robles. She came out saying that she respected the presumption of innocence, but I don't know if they are. They said that there are things about him that cannot be said, that he has asked to be kept secret. And it's not true. Pablo asks us, through the consul, to publicize his case and to put pressure on it. He has nothing to hide. They have played at sowing suspicion to justify his position with respect to Poland. And that does hurt. Didn't they have irrefutable proof? They have had more than 10 months and they are going for the year. How much more do they need to investigate? What Poland wants? The foreign minister should demand that, if they have proof. Present them and be judged. And in the meantime, respect your rights: you are being treated like a prisoner of war.
How are your children doing?
The eldest is 15 years old and is aware of what is happening, although there are things, about the circumstances of the prison, that he cannot tell them because they are harsh. The two minors (10 and 7 years old) are less conscious. The little one, who is the most cuddly, takes it quite badly. Every night I have to answer questions about why he doesn't come, about whether he will come at Christmas, whether he will bring gifts... They ask me why they don't let him make a phone call. The situation is tough.
Taking these circumstances into account, do you remain confident that, in your case, you can count on a fair trial?
The team of lawyers tells us that what they have against them, evidently, does not allow for a trial. However, the way they are treating him, seeing all the obstacles they put up for him to even be able to talk to his children on the phone, I really don't trust a fair trial.