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Poland25 July 2006

Pressure on German journalists continues in wake of article making fun of Polish president

Reporters Without Borders expressed alarm today at the Polish government’s campaign against the German daily Die Tageszeitung and its reporter Peter Kohler, who wrote an article last month poking fun at President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who are identical twin brothers.

The worldwide press freedom organisation criticised on 7 July the president’s attack on what he called a “vile” article and voiced concern at his government’s threat to prosecute the journalist.. The Warsaw regional prosecutor’s office announced on 19 July that the paper and Kohler were being investigated under article 135 of the criminal code, which provides for up to three years in prison for insulting the president.

Threats have been made to Die Tageszeitung’s correspondent in Warsaw, Gabrielle Lesser, by anonymous callers to her mobile phone who also shouted “Heil Hitler!” The Polish foreign ministry has told her it would no longer speak to any of the paper’s reporters.

Another German reporter, Doris Heimann, Warsaw correspondent of Rheinische Post, has received provocative e-mail messages about her being Jewish.

A list of 16 German correspondents in Poland was printed on 13 July in the Polish catholic daily Nasz Dziennik, which invited readers to “remember these names” and regretted that the German journalists had not been punished for saying what they thought.

7 July 2006

Government’s attack on German media deplored

Reporters Without Borders denounced today as “disgraceful” the Polish government’s “over-reaction” in demanding that Germany apologise for a German newspaper article making fun of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his brother.

The outspoken German daily Tageszeitung ran an article on 25 June by reporter Peter Kohler headed “The New Polish Yokels,” saying the president was against gays and making fun of his twin brother Jaroslaw (who heads the ruling Law and Justice Party) because he still lived with his mother. President Kaczynski today called the article “vile” and “disgusting.”

The worldwide press freedom organisation said the demand was “unworthy of a European head of state who supposedly respects freedom of the press.” It asked why a European Union member-state was threatening journalists with imprisonment for criticising politicians and said “outdated” Polish laws providing jail sentences for press offences were against European standards and needed to be “urgently amended.”

Furious Polish officials compared the newspaper to the pro-Nazi German press and called on 4 July for the German government to condemn the article. Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said it was “hard to imagine that someone in Poland would write such things about other heads of state” and said a reaction was “necessary.”

The Polish foreign ministry said it would no longer talk to the paper’s correspondent in Warsaw, Gabrielle Lesser, and said the German media must comply with Polish media standards, which meant not making fun of heads of state.

Article 135 of Poland’s criminal code provides up to three years in jail for insulting the president and article 136.3 requires the same for insulting foreign heads of state or diplomats. Article 226.3 punishes with a fine or up to two years in prison insulting an institution established under the national constitution.

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