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Explained: Poland’s insult law under which author Jakub Zulczyk is facing charges

Jakub Zulczyk is recognised as part of a new generation of Polish writers born in the early 1980s who are known for their commentary on the life and culture of the 21st century.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 31, 2021 7:59:44 am
Polish author and journalist Jakub Zulczyk. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Polish author and journalist Jakub Zulczyk is facing a possible prison sentence for calling Poland’s president Andrzej Duda a “moron” in a Facebook post he wrote in November. Zulczyk could face up to three years in jail if he is found guilty under Poland’s controversial “insult laws” that make it a criminal offence to insult the head of state publicly.

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Who is Jakub Zulczyk and what did he say?

Zulczyk is recognised as part of a new generation of Polish writers born in the early 1980s who are known for their commentary on the life and culture of the 21st century. Some of his famous books include, Blinded from the Lights (the book was adapted by HBO Europe for a TV series), Radio Armageddon and The Institute.

In November, Zulczyk accused the Polish President of not having an understanding of the US elections. Zulczyk was referring to a tweet in which Duda wrote, “Congratulations to @JoeBiden for a successful presidential campaign. As we await the nomination by the Electoral College, Poland is determined to upkeep high-level and high-quality PL-US strategic partnership for an even stronger alliance.”

President Andrzej Duda addressees supporters after voting ended in the presidential election in Lowicz, Poland. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

Zulczyk criticised the President in his Facebook post and said that while he had closely watched US politics he had not heard of an “Electoral College nomination”. In the post Zulczyk wrote, “Joe Biden is the 46th president of the USA. Andrzej Duda is a moron.”

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What are the insult laws?

According to a report prepared by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Poland’s criminal code considers defamation and insult as offences. Defamation is defined as imputing, “to another person, a group of persons, an institution or organisational unit, conduct or characteristics that may discredit them in the face of public opinion”.

The penalty for defamation is a fine or restriction of liberty. Insult, on the other hand, means insulting a person in their presence or absence with the intention of having the insult reach them. The penalty for insult is a fine or restriction of liberty, the report says. Significantly, if the insult or defamation is carried out through mass media, the penalty can be more strict and may include a prison sentence of up to one year.

However, under the criminal code, insulting the President is a criminal offence under Article 135 (2) and carries a prison sentence of up to three years. In 2012, Robert Frycz, the editor of the website Antikomor.pl was convicted for insulting the President Bronislaw Komorowski. Frycz was found guilty under the insult laws and was sentenced to ten months of community service for publishing satirical material about Komorowski.

In 2006, Polish journalist Andrzej Marek served a three-month-long sentence for libel in relation to two articles that were published in 2001 that alleged that a Polish official had used blackmail as a means to get to his position.

Poland’s penal code also includes provisions for prohibiting insults to places or objects of worship of any religion. The Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs notes that most of the recent blasphemy charges have been against artists. The center mentions a case from 2012, when a Polish pop singer was fined $1450 for saying that the Bible was written by “someone drunk on wine and smoking some herbs” in an interview.

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