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Spanish daily and Catalan feminist face trial in Wroclaw for "defaming Poland"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned a lawsuit that was brought against the Spanish daily "El País" in the southwestern city of Wroclaw on 5 June 2007 accusing it of "defaming the Polish people" in an article by former Spanish parliamentarian Pilar Rahola entitled "Poland still freezes the soul" that was published on 17 March.

"We deplore the use, for the first time, of article 132 of the Polish criminal code on 'defaming the nation'," the press freedom organisation said. "The article's author could be sentenced to three years in prison if found guilty. In practice, the Polish authorities would be powerless if she stayed away from Poland. But it would be different if she wanted to visit the country."

The Polish authorities, especially President Lech Kaczynski's office, were outraged by Rahola's article. A few days after its publication, the Polish ambassador to Madrid, Grazyna Bernatowicz, protested against what she called its "offensive formulation." The Wroclaw complaint was filed by the regional head of the League of Polish Families (LPR), Rafal Orszak, who told journalists: "We must put a stop to the anti-Polish sentiment spreading through Western Europe."

Rahola's article said Polish democracy was suffering from several ailments including the political influence of the Catholic Church, official homophobia and widespread racism. A member of the European Union since May 2004, Poland has seen a recent deterioration in relations between the press and the authorities when sensitive issues are broached.

Juan Luis Cebrián, the director general of the Prisa press group, which owns "El País", described the lawsuit as an "utterly bizarre and unreal initiative."

A Catalan from Barcelona, Rahola has long been a colourful figure on Spain's political stage, one known above all for being an outspoken feminist.

She was a member of the national parliament in Madrid for seven years, first as a member of the Republican Left and then as the founder of the Party for Independence.

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