Pablo González is a Spanish journalist also known by his Russian name, Pavel Rubtsov.
His Spanish-Russian nationality could explain the reason for his current whereabouts: a Polish prison cell accused of spying for Russian intelligence. If found guilty, he could serve up to 10 years in prison.
The Polish secret service claims he used his role as a journalist as a cover, but they have not released any evidence to support this claim.
González will deny the charges, said his attorney, Gonzalo Boye, who insists his client is merely a freelance journalist. Although González has family ties to Russia, Boye said that does not mean he is in Vladimir Putin’s secret service.
Polish authorities arrested the journalist on February 28. That day, he had to cross the Ukrainian border with a group of reporters.
González will be held for at least three months in a prison about 400 kilometers from Warsaw, the lawyer added.
His wife, Oihana Goiriena, 36, laughed as she claimed the man she had been married to for 16 years was a spy.
So who is the real Pablo González?
His wife and a friend say his Russian roots come from his late grandfather, Andrés González, who was a child when his family fled Spain to Russia during the Spanish Civil War to escape the forces of General Francisco Franco.
González, 39, lived in Moscow until he was 9 when his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Spain. He is fluent in Russian and studied Slavic studies at the University of Barcelona. His Russian name is taken from his father, who still resides in Moscow.
As a journalist, González specializes in covering conflicts in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, often examining the toll of the fighting on those living in the affected regions. He has been a freelancer for Voice of America, Público, the Basque nationalist newspaper Gara and the Spanish television channel laSexta. He also works as a political commentator.
When he’s not traveling as a war correspondent, he’s a family man who lives with his wife and three sons in the quiet town of Nabarniz in the Basque region of northern Spain. He has a passion for the Athletic Bilbao football club, said 15-year-old friend Gabriel Ezkurd.
According to the Polish secret services, the reality is quite different.
Asked about González by VOA, the Polish Internal Security Agency shared a statement saying, “The man has been identified as an agent of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation (GRU) . He carried out activities for Russia using his status as a journalist. . As a result, he was able to move freely in Europe and around the world, including areas affected by armed conflict and areas of political tension.”
Authorities said that during his stay in Poland, González “obtained information whose use by the Russian secret service could have a direct negative impact on the internal and external security and defense of our country”.
González was about to travel to Ukraine allegedly to “continue his activities”, the statement added.
Polish security services did not provide details of these alleged activities.
Attila Mong, European Union correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists, says his organization is following the case closely.
“In conflict situations, authorities often use allegations of espionage to deter journalists from reporting,” he said.
And Poland has already been criticized by the EU and rights groups for its record on media freedom.
“Legal threats and smear campaigns are a daily threat to journalists who speak out, and journalists covering the migration crisis at the Belarusian border have been arrested and harassed,” Mong told VOA.
In González’s case, CPJ is working to ensure that the journalist receives a fair and transparent legal process to “ensure that he is not punished for his journalistic activities.” Reporting is not a crime,” Mong said.
Goiriena, a council administrator, said the last time she spoke to her husband was during a rushed phone call he made from a Polish jail after his arrest.
“He just called to say he was accused of espionage. He said to call the lawyer, to tell his mother. I couldn’t believe it. It was all like a bad surreal movie” , she told VOA.
It was not the first time that González appeared on the radar of the security services.
On February 5, he was summoned to Kiev for questioning and interrogated for three hours by the Ukrainian secret services before being released, according to his lawyer.
At the time, he was reporting from the Donbass region for Spanish newspapers and television. After his release, he returned to Spain, Boye said.
The International Federation of Journalists reported that González had been accused of being pro-Russian in his coverage of a Spanish newspaper.
Three days later, on February 8, Goiriena learned of González’s arrest in Ukraine when eight officers from the Center for National Intelligence, Spain’s secret service, knocked on her door.
“These officers came to our house and told me that he had been accused of espionage. They were very disparaging about Pablo, saying that his work as a journalist was a lie to cover up his real work as a spy. I was shaking,” Goiriena told VOA. .
“He’s totally innocent. I’ve been married to him for 16 years and I know him better than anyone, than his mother,” she said.
González also denied the accusation in a message sent to friends after being questioned in Ukraine.
“I don’t know what they are going to invent. Tell me what secrets? Who have I spoken to? This is ridiculous,” he said in a message published Wednesday in the left-wing Spanish newspaper Público.
On Monday, a Spanish consular officer in Warsaw visited González in prison.
“I was contacted by the consul, who said Pablo was fine and in good spirits but frustrated at being accused of spying,” Goiriena said.
González’s lawyer, Boye, was not allowed to see his client.
“Pablo will deny the charges. Just because he’s a journalist from Russia doesn’t mean he’s a spy,” Boye told VOA.
Friends and colleagues are not convinced by Poland’s claims.
Virginia Alonso, director of Público, told VOA: “I don’t know if he’s a spy or not, but I think it was a misunderstanding because of his Russian roots and the fact that he works for left-wing newspapers like Público. If he worked for El País, this probably wouldn’t have happened,” she said, referring to the centre-left Spanish newspaper.
Ezkurd told VOA that González “has been criticized (over the years) by many left (political) groups for criticizing Putin. He didn’t take a pro-Russian stance. ‘he’s a spy, and I’ve known him for a long time.
VOA’s review of González’s Twitter feed reveals a series of comments about the Ukraine crisis, but no support for Russian military action.
A spokesperson for Spain’s Foreign Ministry, who declined to be named under the policy, said: ‘We have granted consular assistance to Mr. González.’
Spain’s Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the intelligence agency, declined to comment.
A statement released by VOA said: “González is a Europe-based freelance journalist who has contributed content to a number of outlets, including VOA. González ultimately appears to have submitted six stories to VOA from October 2020 to July 2021. It also provided a cameraman worked last month in Ukraine.”
The statement added that “out of an abundance of caution,” the network has removed and is reviewing its content and notified the VOA/USAGM security office of the arrest.