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IPI condemns legal persecution and harassment of publishing company

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 23 November 2002 IPI press release:

IPI Resolution on Presspublica

At the Board Meeting of the International Press Institute (IPI) in Vienna on 23 November 2002, the IPI board unanimously passed a resolution condemning the continued legal persecution and harassment by the Polish authorities of Presspublica Sp z.o.o., the publishing company of the daily Rzeczpospolita in Warsaw, Poland.

During February 2002, criminal charges were laid against three members of the managing board of Presspublica Sp z.o.o. Accused of "acting to the detriment of the company", the three were banned from leaving the country, forced to hand over their passports, among them a Swedish passport, and placed under police surveillance". These decisions were taken by the prosecutor's office without proper legal argument and without the consent of a judge.

Since the charges were brought, there have been several other worrying events which call into question whether a proper separation of powers exists between the Executive and the prosecution authorities in Poland.

In September, the prosecution authorities, which in Poland report to the minister of justice, started a new proceeding against the managing board members due to their alleged "acting to [the] detriment of the company" by entering into a final settlement in connection with the dismissal of the previous editor-in-chief in the year 2000.

Following the next notion of a representative of the Polish State Treasury (i.e. Director of PPW Rzeczpospolita State Publisher with 49 per cent of the shares), the prosecutor's office is running the proceeding to declare the agreement concluded in 1996 - which has been approved by all necessary institutions and under which the majority shareholder, the Norwegian media group Orkla Media acquired 51 per cent of the shares in Presspublica Sp z.o.o. from the French media group Hersant - invalid. In addition to this, the minority shareholder has filed 12 law suits against the publishing company.

From IPI's perspective, the facts present the picture of a government that uses all its legal resources (in public and private law) to gain and extend editorial control over Rzeczpospolita as much as is in its scope of influence.

In view of the actions of the prosecutor's office, IPI strongly believes that the cases against the managing board members and Presspublica Sp z.o.o. are motivated by the political decision to force majority shareholder the Orkla Media group through its subsidiary, Presspublica Holding Norway (PHN), to sell its shareholding in Presspublica Sp z.o.o. At present PHN holds 51 per cent while the remaining 49 per cent is held by the Polish State Treasury-owned PPW Rzeczpospolita.

IPI is deeply perturbed by this case and believes that it questions Poland's rule of law and raises doubts over the country's suitability for membership of the European Union. With this in mind, the IPI board calls on the Polish government to halt its persecution of the managing board of Presspublica Sp z.o.o., allowing the company to once again continue in its chosen business. The IPI board would also encourage the government to contribute to resolve the situation.

Finally, the IPI board wishes to state that the case is of such severity that it is considering placing Poland on its Watch List, which highlights countries where freedom of the press is suppressed. A decision will be taken at the next IPI board meeting in May 2003.

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