Polish journalist to be jailed in rare criminal libel prosecution

New York, January 12, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the imminent jailing of Andrzej Marek, editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Wiesci Polickie in the northwestern town of Police. Convicted of libeling a local official in articles published in 2001, Marek is due to begin serving a three-month sentence on Monday, according to CPJ sources.

Marek is one of the very few Polish journalists to have been tried on criminal defamation since the collapse of communism in 1989, CPJ research shows. Few journalists have been jailed for their work in all of the European Union, according to that research.

The criminal libel charge stems 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.

The Polish Chamber of Press Publishers, a press association, has asked new President Lech Kaczynski to pardon the journalist.

“We are deeply troubled by the Polish courts’ decision to send a journalist to jail for what he has written, and we appeal to President Kaczynski to immediately pardon Andrzej Marek,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This case demonstrates the urgent need for Polish authorities to eliminate laws that criminalize libel. Democracies worldwide have shown that civil law provides a fully appropriate remedy.”

Marek was convicted in November 2003, and the Szczecin District Court upheld the ruling in February 2004. The court said it would suspend Marek’s sentence if he apologized to Misilo in his newspaper, but Marek refused.

The court ordered Marek to start serving his sentence in March 2004 at the Szczecin Municipal Prison. A day before he was to be jailed, a group of prominent Polish journalists protested outside the Polish Parliament in the capital, Warsaw. The journalists rented an empty tiger cage from the Warsaw Zoo and took turns locking themselves inside for 30 minutes at a time to dramatize the verdict, according to local and international press reports.

Following the protest, the Szczecin District Court postponed Marek’s sentence for six months, while Marek continued to appeal the verdict.

On June 22, 2004, the Polish Supreme Court upheld the sentence, despite protests from Polish and international human-rights groups and a Parliament-appointed ombudsman. The Supreme Court ruled that the accusations Marek made against Misilo in his articles were unfounded and untrue, international reports said.

The sentence was stayed again as Marek sought a pardon from then-President Aleksander Kwasniewski, but the request was denied last month.