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Poland6 November 2007

TV station withdraws libel action against newspaper editors

The privately-owned television station TVN has withdrawn its libel suit against Tomasz Sakiewicz, the editor of the weekly Gazeta Polska, and Katarzyna Hejke, his deputy. They will not, as a result, have to spend 48 hours in police custody beginning 12 December under an order issued by a court to ensure they attended the next hearing. A TVN spokesman told journalists that Sakiewicz and Hejke had been using their imminent imprisonment in order to portray themselves as “free speech martyrs".

6 November 2007 : Two newspaper editors to be held for 48 hours prior to libel trial

Reporters Without Borders today condemned legislation that enabled a Warsaw court on 30 October to order that the editor of national weekly Gazeta Polska, Tomasz Sakiewicz, and his deputy, Katarzyna Hejke, should be held in police custody for two days prior to the start of a libel trial on 14 December in order, the court said, to ensure they attend.

“We condemn article 212.2 of the Polish criminal code because it has a disciplinary character and likens journalists to criminals liable to become fugitives from justice,” the press freedom organisation said. “This is unworthy of a European Union country and we call on the next government to repeal this article.”

The privately-owned television station TVN is suing Sakiewicz and Hejke for libel over an October 2006 story claiming that one of TVN’s directors, Milan Subotic, cooperated with the communist-era Military Information Services. Subotic was dismissed soon afterwards. Gazeta Polska, which supports the outgoing government, was accused by the opposition of trying to smear TVN by giving the impression it was run by former communists.

Article 212.2 provides for sentences of up to two years in prison for defamation. Poland was ranked 56th out of 169 countries in the 2007 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index. Its low position was due largely to its refusal to amend its legislation governing press offences.

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