Berlin, June 4, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the conviction and sentence of journalist Anna Wilk in a criminal libel lawsuit in which she was sentenced on first instance for a fine and a three-year ban on practicing journalism.
On May 24, a district court in Poznań, in western Poland, ordered Wilk, a reporter for local weekly newspaper Gazeta Powiatowa in the town of Legionowo, to pay damages and a fine totaling US$1,800 and banned her from working in the media or publishing houses as a journalist for three years, according to media news sites Wirtualne Media and Press.pl.
The charges were brought against Wilk in a private bill of indictment based on Article 212 of the Polish penal code by Amica, an electric appliances company listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, following her reporting in the newspaper and on Facebook on March 23, 2017, about the suicide of a company employee, according to Press.pl. Press.pl reported that the company requested a suspended prison sentence against Wilk; the penal code allows a maximum one-year sentence for criminal libel. In an interview with news site Onet, and in an email to CPJ, Wilk said she would appeal the verdict and vowed to continue her reporting on the complaints of Amica's employees.
"While a publicly traded company in an EU-member state can challenge news reports in a civil court it should not be asking criminal courts to hand a journalist a suspended prison sentence," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. "It is outrageous that a journalist could be stripped of their livelihood or threatened with prison. Poland's criminal defamation laws are out of place in a liberal democracy and should be scrapped. Authorities should not contest Anna Wilk's appeal and she should be allowed to work unhindered."
In an email statement sent to CPJ, Amica's PR manager, Tomasz Pietrzyk, said that in the company's view Wilk's reporting was "unreliable, defamatory and ungrounded," and "not based on any evidence." He added that the company would pursue the case in the hopes that a court of higher instance will affirm the ruling.
In March, ruling party president Jaroslaw Kaczyński filed a criminal libel complaint against Gazeta Wyborcza, the country's biggest independent daily newspaper, CPJ reported at the time.