November 2, 2006 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Bad pupil Poland refuses to abolish prison sentences for defamation

Article 212 of the Polish criminal code, making defamation punishable by imprisonment, is to remain in force. Reporters Without Borders condemns this decision, which puts Poland in the category of free expression violators. Poland is one of the very few EU countries that jail journalists for defamation.

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Polish constitutional court's decision to uphold article 212 of the criminal code, under which defaming or publicly humiliating someone is punishable by up to a year in prison, or two years if done in the media.

“Confirming article 212 endorses the highest judicial authorities' refusal to let Poland's legislation on free expression evolve,” the press freedom organisation said. “Other countries in central and eastern Europe are repealing laws criminalizing defamation, but Poland insists on keeping this draconian provision.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Moldova and Romania have made an effort to draw closer to European Union legislation but Poland, which was one of the first countries to benefit from the expansion eastwards, is emerging as the European Union's bad pupil as regards free expression.”

The constitutional court recognised that free expression is “one of the most important values of a democratic state” but decided that personal dignity and honour come first. Many international human rights organisations continue to call for the repeal of prison sentences for press offences, which violate article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The press has been the target of prosecutions since Lech Kaczynski became president in October 2005. Andrzej Marek, the editor of the weekly Wiesci Polickie, was detained for two days in January 2006 for writing about an official's alleged corruption. He could be sent back to prison following this decision by the constitutional court.

“We urge the Polish courts not to apply this article because, if they do, it could paralyse public debate in Poland,” Reporters Without Borders added.