ARTICLE 19 welcomes the verdict of the District Court in Warsaw-Mokotów on 5 March 2021 to acquit Professor Wojciech Sadurski in a criminal defamation lawsuit brought by the public broadcaster Telewizja Polska SA (TVP). ARTICLE 19 monitored the court hearings in person and had the status of community representative with the case. The verdict is an important pushback against growing efforts to misuse civil and criminal defamation laws to silence dissent in Poland. The verdict is not final, TVP can appeal.
“We welcome the decision of the court in Warsaw, especially at a time when the ruling party is dismantling the rule of law and independent judiciary with “disciplinary” procedures against judges who defend their independence against political influence – said Sarah Clarke, head of Europe and Central Asia. “Professor Sadurski has been a target of numerous SLAPP lawsuits brought by TVP and the ruling party which were clearly designed not to be won but to intimidate and silence him. It’s the third year of his legal struggle for his right to freedom of expression, which shows how much we need an EU Anti-SLAPP Directive and to continue campaigning for the repeal of criminal defamation laws across Europe ”
TVP brought the case over a tweet that Sadurski posted on 16 January 2019. In it, Sadurski blamed the Polish public broadcaster TVP for an organised smear campaign that led to the assassination of the Mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, on 14 January 2019. He called on opposition politicians not to appear on the “government media” channels of TVP, describing it as a “Goebbelsian media company”.
In the criminal defamation case under Article 212 of the Criminal Code [in Polish “zniesławienie”], TVP demanded a payment of PLN 10 000 [EUR 2500] to a nominated charity. The offence of which W. Sadurski was indicted could attract, in addition to a fine, a penalty of up to 1 year in jail.
ARTICLE 19 had previously expressed concern regarding the actions of the public broadcaster, Telewizja Polska SA. In a July 2020 statement we highlighted the biased and imbalanced reporting of the presidential campaign and TVP’s role in amplifying the government’s discriminatory rhetoric against minority groups. We also monitored another SLAPP case brought by TVP against journalists of Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading Polish daily. TVP has brought a number of SLAPP cases against the media and opinion makers who criticise the broadcaster and its open affiliation with the ruling party. The role of a public broadcaster is to be pluralistic, impartial, well-balanced and independent in its reporting.
This is not the end of struggle for Professor Sadurski – there is one more civil defamation lawsuit brought against him by the public broadcaster TVP for the same tweet.