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Journalist sentenced to three months in prison for defamation; RSF calls for presidential pardon

(RSF/IFEX) - On 22 June 2004, the Warsaw Supreme Court upheld a three-month prison sentence against Andrzej Marek, editor-in-chief of local weekly "Wiesci Polickie", for libelling a local official.

"There can be no justification in a democracy for the imprisonment of a journalist for defamation," said RSF in a letter to President Aleksander Kwasniewski. "This sentence runs contrary to the recommendations of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), that press offences should never be punished with prison sentences."

"As a last resort, we urge you to pardon the journalist and undertake urgent reform of your legislation to bring it in line with European standards," RSF added.

Marek was first sentenced in November 2002 to a prison sentence that was suspended on condition that he make a public apology to the plaintiff. The sentence was confirmed on appeal in November 2003. On 6 February 2004, Judge Marcin Jedrzejewski sentenced Marek to three months in prison for refusing to apologise.

In a February 2001 article entitled "Promotion of scheming", the journalist said he suspected Piotr Misilo, then head of communications for Police town hall and spokesperson for the local authority, of using his position to promote the advertising agency that he owned.

In its 22 June verdict, the Warsaw Supreme Court decided that Marek's accusations against Misilo were unfounded.

On 23 March, a court in Szczecin, northwestern Poland, suspended the sentence for six months due to Marek's wife's high-risk pregnancy.

On 4 March, RSF urged President Kwasniewski to grant Marek a pardon. On 11 March, Ombudsman Andrzej Zoll made an official request to the Supreme Court for an appeal. The head of state told the press that he was willing to begin the pardon procedure, but not before the Supreme Court had delivered its verdict.

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