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Poland25 January 2005

The editor of a satirical paper sentenced for making "insulting" comments about the pope

A Warsaw court ordered Jerzy Urban, editor of satirical newspaper Nie to pay a fine equivalent to 5,000 euros on 25 January 2005, after he was convicted of insulting Pope Jean-Paul II as a "foreign head of state" under Article 136.3 of the Polish criminal code. The prosecutor‚s call for a ten-month suspended prison sentence was dropped but the harsh fine, just for a satirical article, sets a dangerous legal precedent for free expression in Poland.


Prosecutor requests suspended prison sentence for "offensive" editorial about pope 19 january 2005

The prosecution in Poland of satirical newspaper editor Jerzy Urban for an editorial about Pope John Paul II could set "a dangerous precedent for a European Union member state," Reporters Without Borders warned today.

A Warsaw prosecutor on 14 January requested a 10-month suspended prison sentence and a fine equivalent to 5,000 euros for Urban, the editor of the newspaper Nie, because of an editorial published on 15 August 2002 deemed "offensive" to the pope.

"We know perfectly well that it is still completely taboo to criticise Pope John Paul II in Poland, but that must not prevent the authorities from conforming to the laws regulating press freedom in Europe, including article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning free expression," Reporters Without Borders said.

Published on eve of a papal visit to Poland, the article was headlined "The walking sado-masochist." It described the pope as the "Vatican’s Brezhnev," in reference to the continuation of his reign despite declining health, and as an "impotent old man" offering a "spectacle of horror" to the public.

The prosecutor’s office said Urban "crossed the legal limits of free speech and journalistic ethical norms by using expressions offending and mocking the pope with the aim of slandering and humiliating." Under article 136.3 of the Polish penal code, Urban could get three years in prison for "publicly insulting a foreign head of state."

A verdict and sentencing is due on 25 January. If the prosecutor’s request is upheld and Urban gets a suspended prison sentence of 10 months or less, this will constitute a violation of free expression and a threat to the safeguarding of diversity of opinion in Poland. Urban has provocatively said he hopes to be sent to prison because this would prove "the existence of pro-church censorship" in Poland.




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