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IFEX MEMBERS RAISE CONCERNS OVER LIBEL LAWS

Poland's libel laws are coming under greater scrutiny in the free-expression community, with four IFEX members voicing concerns in the past week over at least 20 legal actions launched against journalists and independent media in the country.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are calling attention to two cases in which journalists have been jailed on libel charges this year. A further 18 court actions are pending against the privately owned newspaper "Rzeczpospolita, " according to IFJ.

On 22 June 2004, Poland's Supreme Court upheld a three-month jail sentence against Andrzej Marek, editor-in-chief of the weekly "Wiesci Polickie" (Police News), who was found guilty of libeling a local official in November 2003, reports CPJ. The court ordered Marek to serve his sentence immediately. Marek had written two articles in "Wiesci Polickie" in February 2001 which accused the official of obtaining his post through blackmail and using it to promote his private advertising business.

In May 2004, Beata Korzeniewska, a journalist for the daily newspaper "Gazeta Pomorska," was sentenced to one month in prison for libeling a judge from the northern city of Torun, says IPI. Korzeniewska had written an article in May 2001 stating that there had been rumours in local court circles that the judge was the author of anonymous letters revealing corrupt practices among Torun lawyers, according to IPI.

Meanwhile, 18 court actions have been launched against "Rzeczpospolita," of which at least 12 are against members of the newspaper's management board. Poland's State Treasury alleges that the board members have "acted to the detriment of the company," notes the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

"Rzeczpospolita" is partly owned by the State Treasury. Norway's Orkla Media is the majority shareholder. In February 2003, WAN appointed two legal experts to monitor the situation as part of an international commission (see: http://www.wan-press.org/article771.html).

The IFEX members argue that the criminalisation of libel violates international standards on free expression, including rulings by the European Court of Human Rights which say libel should be dealt with only under civil law.

Visit these links:

- CPJ on the Andrzej Marek Case: http://www.cpj.org/news/2004/Poland23june04na.html
- IPI on the Beata Korzeniewska Case: http://www.freemedia.at/Protests%202004/Poland07.05.04.htm
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=2583&Language=EN
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10815
- IFEX Resource on Insult and Criminal Defamation Laws: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/236/
- Polish Journalists Face Legal Battles: http://www.polandmonthly.pl/stories/cover_feb2004.htm

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