Poland criticised for jailing journalist

A Polish journalist has begun to serve a three-month prison term for libelling a local official. The case has sparked international outrage.

Despite protests from international rights groups, Polish journalist Andrzej Marek began to serve a three-month prison sentence in Szczecin on 16 January for defaming a local official. Marek, editor of the weekly Wiesci Polickie, exposed a corrupt official in the town of Police in a February 2001 article. 

Marek was convicted in 2002 of libelling the official, and after he refused to apologise, his sentence was suspended pending a plea for presidential pardon in 2004. However, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski declined to pardon Marek. The case is now on the desk of President Lech Kaczynski, who is expected to examine it.

Marek’s imprisonment is “shameful for a country like Poland, which has just joined the European Union and which is the sole member state to impose prison sentences on journalists for offences of opinion”, the international rights group Reporters Without Borders said. “Andrzej Marek should be immediately released.” 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said that “democracies do not jail journalists for criticising officials”. The CPJ has urged Polish authorities to “decriminalise libel and leave redress for defamation to the civil courts as in established democracies”.

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