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ECtHR: the journalist found guilty of refusing to publish a correction may request re-opening of the proceedings

In March 2012, the European Court of Human Rights accepted a unilateral declaration of the Polish Government and decided to strike the case of Sroka v. Poland off the case list. The case concerned the criminal judgement against an editor-in-chief found guilty of refusing to publish a correction to an article. The ECtHR held that the applicant had the right to have the domestic proceedings re-opened.

‘The Strasbourg’s decision is only a partial success. It is good that Mr Sroka’s case may be re-examined by a Polish court, but we hoped for the ECtHR’s judgement’, says Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, a lawyer with the Observatory of the Freedom of Media, HFHR.

Mr Sroka was the editor-in-chief of the Puls Biznesu daily newspaper. In July 2004, the paper ran the article ‘Śląskie stopy’ (Silesian Alloys) by Maria Trepińska. The article described the privatisation process of the Łaziska Smelting Plant and the involvement of GEMI, a privately held company with limited liability, in this process. Counsel for GEMI requested the editor-in-chief to publish a correction to the story. Mr Sroka did not agree with the content of the correction statement proposed by the company and refused, giving extensive justification.

In July 2005 the criminal proceedings were launched against Mr Sroka under the Press Act. In October 2006 the District Court in Warsaw found the editor guilty of the alleged offence and sentenced him to a fine. The sentence was affirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court refused to consider the cassation complaint brought by the Ombudsman, as manifestly unfounded.

Mr Sroka filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the sentence passed against him under the Press Act violated his freedom of expression protected in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its unilateral declaration submitted to the ECtHR, the Polish Government admitted the violation and agreed to pay to the applicant PLN 18,000 as compensation. Responding to the Government’s submission, Mr Sroka asked the Court to enter a judgement on his case.

The Court decided to accept the Polish Government’s declaration, emphasising that the applicant has the right to have the domestic proceedings re-opened.

‘Increasingly more often the Government opts to conclude cases before the ECtHR by a unilateral declaration. In 2011 as many as three cases were so resolved. It is a pity that in cases such as Sroka v. Poland, the Court does not enter judgements which would define in more detail the operating standards of the freedom of speech’, says Professor Ireneusz Kamiński, HFHR expert.

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