Reporters Without Borders

Court ruling on “decommunization” law lifts threat to press freedom

Published on Tuesday 15 May 2007.
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Reporters Without Borders today hailed the Polish constitutional court’s 11 May decision to strike down much of a controversial “decommunization” law designed to vet the backgrounds of some 700,000 Poles. Several of the 46 articles challenged by the social-democrat opposition were nonetheless upheld. Articles involving journalists, school directors and university rectors were among those declared unconstitutional.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling,” the press freedom organisation said. “It must now be quickly published in the official gazette so that it can take effect.”

In an op-ed piece published by Gazeta Wyborcza on 24 March, Reporters Without Borders had warned against a procedure that would create “a category of citizens deprived of free speech with the state’s blessing.”

One of the law’s critics, Bronislaw Geremek, a leading opponent of the former communist regime who was elected to the European parliament in 2004, said of the court’s ruling: “There are no winners or losers, just citizens who have been protected.” He added: “Poland continues to be a country where the rule of law prevails.”

Under law, which took effect on 15 March, journalists were obliged to file affidavits swearing that they never collaborated with the secret police under the communist regime that fell in 1989. Those who refused to file such statements could lose their jobs and be banned from working as journalists for 10 years.

The constitutional court made a point of issuing its ruling prior to the 15 May deadline for filing these affidavits. The overwhelming majority of the citizens concerned chose to wait until after the court’s decision before sending their form to the Institute for National Memory (IPN), which is in charge of the archives of the SB, the former secret police.

The ruling is a major setback for conservative President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who had made the “decommunization” law one of the priorities of their administration. Anticipating a negative ruling, they had tried everything in recent days to prevent it being issued, and had even ordered a search of the IPN archives for anything that would discredit the court’s judges.

To avoid exposing the court to charges of a conflict of interests, its president decided to suspend two judges whose names had been registered in the SB archives as informal “contacts,” although the names were later crossed out because of their refusal to collaborate - a detail which the Fakt daily newspaper deliberately omitted.

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