A journalist has been charged with criminal defamation for likening Polish border guards to the Nazi SS. If convicted, he could face up to a year in prison.
The interior minister, who initially notified prosecutors of the potential crime, said that the remarks “tarnished the good name” of the guards. But the journalist claims that the case is intended intimidate him and discourage criticism of the authorities.
The words in question came in August, during the early stages of the ongoing crisis at the border with Belarus, where tens of thousands of migrants and refugees – mostly from the Middle East – have been trying to cross into Poland.
At that stage, the government had not yet introduced the state of emergency that would bar non-residents from entering the border area. But border guards were already seeking to prevent some aid workers, NGOs, lawyers and medics from contact with migrants camped on the other side of the border.
“Border guards guards who forbid providing water or letting doctors reach the refugees could stich SS badges [onto their uniforms],” tweeted Piotr Maślak, a journalist at liberal radio station TOK FM.
“They [the SS] also obeyed orders,” he continued. “And if they order you to shoot at refugees will you also carry out the order?”
In response, interior minister Mariusz Kamiński announced that he would issue a notification to prosecutors. “I will never accept the border guard’s good name being tarnished,” said Kamiński. Comparing them to the “criminal SS is vile”, he added.
Maślak’s remarks were also condemned by the head of the border guard’s trade union, Marcin Kolasa, who called them “a shame and disgrace”. The officers are “guarding the borders of Poland and the European Union”, he noted.
Nigdy nie będzie mojej zgody na szarganie dobrego imienia @Straz_Graniczna . Porównywanie formacji chroniącej granice Polski do zbrodniczej SS to podłość. Złożę zawiadomienie do prokuratury w tej sprawie. Zapewniam Funkcjonariuszy SG, macie moje pełne wsparcie! pic.twitter.com/56LQTgeRFO
— Mariusz Kamiński (@Kaminski_M_) August 23, 2021
After an investigation. prosecutors yesterday charged Maślak under article 212 of the Polish penal code, which criminalises defamation of an individual, group or institution in a manner that demeans them publicly or exposes them to a loss of trust.
The criminal offence, if conducted through means of mass communication, carries a jail term of up to one year.
“I have no doubt that this is an attempt to discourage me, as a journalist, from criticising the ruling camp,” Maślak told news portal Onet, He added, however, that the legal action would have “the opposite effect”.
Last month, Human Rights Watch accused both Poland and Belarus of “shared responsibility for abuse” of migrants at their border. The Polish government, however, argues that it provides all necessary humanitarian, medical and legal aid to those who cross.
Criminal defamation is one of a wide range of so-called “insult laws” in Poland that carry potential prison sentences. It is also illegal to insult the president, to offend religious sentiment, and to insult monuments.
Agnieszka Wądołowska is managing editor of Notes from Poland. She has previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna