Journalist jailed after sentence upheld

New York, June 23, 2004—The Polish Supreme Court yesterday upheld the three-month jail sentence of a journalist found guilty of libeling a local official in November 2003 and ordered that he be jailed immediately.

Andrzej Marek, editor in chief of the weekly Wiesci Polickie (Police News) in the western town of Police, was convicted in November 2003 of libeling Piotr Misilo, then the appointed speaker of the Promotion and Information Unit of the Police City Council, in two articles published in Wiesci Polickie in February 2001. The articles accused Misilo of obtaining his post through blackmail and using it to promote his private advertising business.

On Feb. 6, 2004, the Szcecin District Court upheld its Nov. 8, 2003, verdict sentencing Marek to three months in jail for defaming Misilo. The court ruled that it would suspend the sentence if Marek apologized to Misilo in his newspaper, but the journalist refused. On March 2, 2004, the court ordered Marek to appear at Szcecin Municipal Prison on March 23 to begin serving his sentence.

On March 22, a group of prominent Polish journalists, including popular television anchors and leading editors, gathered in protest outside the Polish Parliament in the capital, Warsaw. They rented an empty tiger cage from the Warsaw Zoo and took turns locking themselves inside for 30 minutes at a time to demonstrate their solidarity with Marek, according to local and international reports.

Following the protest, the Sczecin District Court postponed Marek’s sentence for six months.

The Polish Supreme Court in Warsaw, however, upheld the prison verdict yesterday, and Marek began serving his sentence immediately. The Supreme Court ruled that the accusations Marek made against Misilo in his articles were unfounded and untrue, international reports said.

Local media and human rights organizations, including the Polish Press Monitoring Center, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, the Polish Journalists’ Association, and the Parliament-appointed ombudsman, have lobbied for Marek’s acquittal.

“We are shocked by the Polish Supreme Court’s decision to send a journalist to jail for articles he has written,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Libel is not a criminal offense in a democracy.”

Marek is the first journalist in Poland to serve a prison term for his work since the collapse of communism in 1989. He is the only journalist currently in jail for his work in all of the European Union.