Imprisoned for libel, a Polish journalist is released

New York, January 26, 2006—A Polish journalist convicted in a rare criminal libel prosecution has been freed two days into his prison term after the country’s top constitutional court ordered the suspension of his sentence, according to news reports.

Andrzej Marek, editor-in-chief of the weekly Wiesci Polickie in the town of Police, was released from a municipal prison in the northwestern city of Szczecin on January 18. The criminal libel charge stemmed from two February 2001 articles alleging that Piotr Misilo, speaker of the promotion and information unit of the Police City Council, had obtained his post through blackmail and used the position to promote his private advertising business.

As he entered prison, Marek professed his innocence and said that he would “wait for clemency until my last day in this prison,” The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported. He was due to serve a three-month term.

The Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s highest constitutional court, suspended Marek’s sentence and ordered him free in a ruling issued on January 18, the AP said. The day before, Misilo had called on President Lech Kaczynski to pardon Marek. “It has never been my intention to jail a journalist,” Misilo told the Polish news agency PAP. “I only wanted him to apologize.”

Marek refused to apologize. Upon his release from prison, he said the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision was driven by “forces and politicians who could not accept my imprisonment,” Marek told PAP. “I am so happy.”

Very few Polish journalists have been tried on criminal libel charges since the collapse of communism in 1989, CPJ research shows. And few journalists have been jailed for their work in all of the European Union, according to that research.

Read CPJ’s earlier alert on Marek’s case.