19 January 2005


Prosecutor requests suspended prison sentence for "offensive" editorial about the pope

Incident details

Jerzy Urban


legal action

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(RSF/IFEX) - The prosecution of satirical newspaper editor Jerzy Urban for an editorial about Pope John Paul II could set "a dangerous precedent for a European Union member state," RSF has warned.

On 14 January 2005, a Warsaw prosecutor requested a 10-month suspended prison sentence and a fine equivalent to 5,000 euros (approx. US$6,500) for Urban, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper "Nie", because of an editorial published on 15 August 2002 deemed "offensive" to the pope.

"We know perfectly well that it is still a taboo to criticise Pope John Paul II in Poland, but that must not prevent the authorities from conforming to the laws regulating press freedom in Europe, including Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning free expression," RSF said.

Published on the eve of a papal visit to Poland, the article was entitled, "The Walking Sado-Masochist". It described the pope as the "Vatican's Brezhnev", in reference to the continuation of his reign despite declining health, and as an "impotent old man", offering a "spectacle of horror" to the public.

The Prosecutor's Office said Urban "crossed the legal limits of free speech and journalistic ethical norms by using expressions offending and mocking the pope with the aim of slandering and humiliating [him]." Under Article 136.3 of the Polish Penal Code, Urban could get three years in prison for "publicly insulting a foreign head of state".

A verdict and sentencing are expected on 25 January. If the prosecutor's request is upheld and Urban gets a suspended prison sentence of 10 months or less, RSF believes this will constitute a violation of free expression and a threat to the safeguarding of diversity of opinion in Poland. Urban has provocatively said he hopes to be sent to prison because this would prove "the existence of pro-church censorship" in Poland.


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