Local newspaper Página/12 has become the first outlet in the world to be targeted by Poland's controversial so-called "Holocaust law," after a nationalist group known as the Polish League Against Defamation (RDI) filed a case on Friday, just hours after the legislation became law.
The law, which went into effect on Thursday but still faces a Supreme Court review, sets fines or up to three years in jail for anyone ascribing "responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich … or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes.”
The "Holocaust Law" as its being referred to, allows the European country to ligate against, “whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes."
The main aim seems to be to prevent people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, as Polish.
The legislation, which can land those found guilty of the crime up to three years in prison, has drawn widespread international criticism and ignited an unprecedented diplomatic row with Israel.
Critics, including Israel's government, have expressed concerns that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles in killing or giving up Jews to the Germans. Israel has also argued that the law distorts history and undermines academic research and freedom of expression.
On Friday, the Polish League Against Defamation, a non-profit which is close to Poland's conservative government, lodged a case under the new law against the website of Página/12.
The RDI said the paper had used a picture of anti-Communist Polish resistance fighters from after World War II in an online article about the Jedwabne pogrom, a 1941 massacre of more than 300 Jews by their Polish neighbours during the Nazi occupation.
“The combination of these two threads: information about the crime on Jews in Jedwabne during the German occupation and the presentation of fallen soldiers of the independence underground is manipulation, an act to the detriment of the Polish nation,” the organisation said in a statement reported by Reuters.
RDI accused the newspaper and its journalist Federico Pavlovsky of "an action intended to harm the Polish nation and the good reputation of Polish soldiers.”
Writing in the newspaper in response, Pavlovsky said: "We know what the intention is of these types of judicial politics is to: intimidate, silence and paralyze (people) with fear."
In an article posted on its website on Saturday, Pagina/12 said,“this newspaper did not receive any legal communication and only learned of the information through international news agency reports. If successful, this attempt at international censorship could threaten freedom of expression worldwide.”
It is unclear if charges will actually come forward. According to reports, Polish President Andrzej Duda approved the law last month, though it has since been sent to the Polish Supreme Court for review. According to Poland's Justice Ministry, charges cannot be lodged or progressed until the justices have ruled, a move that may take several weeks. In addition, the article was published in December, before the legislation became law. It is unclear if the legislation could be applied retroactively.
Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing around six million of its citizens, including approximately three million Jews.