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The court allowed, the court convicted: judgment in the case of journalists from Września

A journalist and the editor-in-chief of a local newspaper  were proclaimed guilty of disclosing information on closed-door court proceedings. The guilty verdict was rendered despite the fact that it was the court itself who had allowed the journalists to access the records of the proceedings to write a newspaper article. The adjudicating judge refrained from imposing a sentence. Nevertheless, the journalists will have to make a charitable contribution (case no. VIII K 510/11).

The trial of Waldemar Ś. and Tomasz Sz., journalists of the local newspaper Wiadomości Wrzesińskie, came to an end on Tuesday, 24 April 2012. In the paper they covered the local high-profile case of sexual abuse of employees by a German entrepreneur. Tomasz Sz., the author of the article, relied on the records of the proceedings which had been closed to the public. Previously, the court granted him access to the case files, even though it was expressly indicated in the journalist’s application that he sought the court’s leave for the purpose of writing an article.

Disclosing information on the closed-door proceedings is a criminal offence actionable under article 241 of the Criminal Code. The case was heard by a District Court in Poznań. The journalists pleaded not guilty. The judge found they erred in holding they acted within the limits of law. Having been granted official permission to use the files for the purpose of writing an article, they could have assumed that no criminal liability would attach to them.

Yet in the judge’s opinion, that error cannot be justified. The judge contended that it was absolutely forbidden to divulge information on the classified proceedings and even the court’s permission could not change that.

That is why the court found the defendants guilty but at the same time decided on extraordinary mitigation of their sentences. The journalists will not answer for the offence which carries a penalty of a maximum of two years imprisonment. They were ordered to pay PLN 800 for a charitable cause and will have a criminal record.

The journalists say they will appeal against the court’s decision. The case was monitored as part of the Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland Programme. The Foundation is considering filing amicus curiae brief in the appellate proceedings.

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