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Poland23 June 2004

Journalist sentenced to three months in prison for defamation
Reporters Without Borders calls for a presidential pardon

Warsaw’s Supreme Court on 22 June upheld a three-month prison sentence against Andrzej Marek, editor of local weekly Wiesci Polickie, for libelling a local official.

"There can be no justification in a democracy for the imprisonment of a journalist for defamation," said Reporters Without Borders, in a letter to President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

"This sentence runs contrary to the recommendations of the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), that press offences should never be punished with prison sentences."

"As a last resort, we urge you to pardon the journalist and to undertake urgent reform of your legislation to bring it in line with European standards," it added.

Marek was sentenced in November 2002 then, on appeal in November 2003, to a prison sentence that was suspended on condition that he made a public apology to the complainant. On 6 February 2004, Judge Marcin Jedrzejewski sentenced Marek to three months in prison for refusing to apologise.

In an article headlined "Promotion of scheming", that appeared in February 2001, the journalist said he suspected Piotr Misilo, at the time head of communications for Police town hall and spokesman for the local authority, of using his position to promote the advertising agency that he owned.

In it’s 22 June verdict, the Warsaw Supreme Court decided that Marek’s accusations against Misilo were unfounded.

A court in Szczecin, north-western Poland on 23 March suspended the start of the sentence for six months because the journalist’s wife was undergoing a high-risk pregnancy.

After 4 March, Reporters Without Borders had urged President Kwasniewski to grant Marek a pardon. On 11 March the ombudsman Andrzej Zoll made an official request to the supreme court for an appeal. The head of state then told the press that he was minded to begin the pardon procedure, but not before the supreme court had given its verdict.

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