Polish journalist imprisoned for libelling municipal employee

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Andrzej Marek, a journalist working in the north-western town of Police in Poland, began a three-month jail sentence on January 15 2006.

Marek is the editor of a regional weekly newspaper, the Wiesci Polickie (news from the town of Police). In February 2001, he published an article alleging that a local municipal employee, who privately ran an advertising agency, had a conflict of interest in which he profited from his position to obtain business for his agency.

In November 2002, Marek was found guilty of defamation. Upon appeal in November 2003, he had the three-month prison sentence suspended on the condition that he apologise to the libellee. Marek refused to apologise and applied for a presidential pardon in March 2004. This was eventually refused. On March 23, 2004, a court in Szczecin suspended the application of the sentence by six months due to problems with Marek's wife's pregnancy.

Reporters sans frontières claims that Poland is the only European Union country in which prison sentences are imposed for "offences of opinion" and that this is the first such occurrence in the EU. On July 18, 2003, Dorota Nieznalska was sentenced to six months of community service for displaying a work of art that showed a penis on a cross. On January 5, 2005, Jerzy Urban was fined 20,000 złoty (about 5000 euros) for having insulted Pope John Paul II, who qualified for legal protection against insults due to his role as a visiting head of state. Neither of these penalties were prison sentences.

Polish websites are calling for appeals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights protesting the prison sentence.

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