Polish NGO sues Argentine newspaper using controversial Holocaust law

Using Poland’s controversial new Holocaust law, the Polish League Against Defamation sued Argentine newspaper Página 12 and a collaborator of the publication for an article about a massacre of Jews in the town of Jedwabne in 1941.

The article, published in December on the back page of Página 12, relayed the story of a massacre of half of a Polish village in Jedwabne, Poland in 1941, making reference to the book “Neighbors” by Polish-American historian Jan T. Gross that was published in 2001.

The NGO accused Página 12 and the author of the article, the Argentine psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Federico Pavlovsky, of having illustrated the article, in a biased way, with an image that did not correspond to the facts it relays. According to the League, the corpses shown in the photo would be four members of the Polish anti-Communist resistance after the Second World War, and not massacred Jews, La Nación published.

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 organization said in a statement according to Reuters.

This organization, linked to the nationalist government of Polish President Andrzej Duda, made use of a controversial law that came into force on March 1, La Nación reported.

The law would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust,” CNN reported. “It would also ban the use of terms such as ‘Polish death camps’ in relation to Auschwitz and other such camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland.”

The so-called Holocaust law, passed in February by the Polish government, imposes three years in jail and a series of fines, La Nación reported. This law would apply to nationals and foreigners who commit the offenses indicated by the law inside and outside Poland, however, paragraph 3 of article 33 excludes artists and academics, according to Página 12.

The United States and Israel have made pronouncements against this law as a threat to freedom of expression and have said it could lead to the distortion of history, respectively, The Guardian published.

Lawyer and doctor in Argentine communication, Damián Loreti, said in Página 12 that the Polish law does not fulfill any of the requirements of the standards of restrictions of freedom of expression of the European jurisprudence of human rights. In addition, Loreti said, it could not be applied to publications produced prior to the law.

The author of the article wrote on March 4 in Página 12 that the intention of these "judicial-political maneuvers" is to intimidate, silence and paralyze with fear. "In Argentina we already lived through times of terror, when by thinking differently, writing notes or meeting as a group you could disappear forever," Pavlovsky said.

However, in an interview conducted by Radio AM 750 of Argentina, Pavlovsky said about the accusation: "We are trying to accommodate ourselves to the vertigo of everything that is happening."

In the interview, Pavlovsky said he also assured that he will continue writing on these issues, although "with fear." He added that "the worst thing that could happen is that a journalist or a budding journalist would want to write and reflect on a fact of this nature and stop doing it to avoid getting into trouble."

Through its Twitter account, the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (Adepa) expressed its concern over the complaint against Página 12.

Also, the president of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Agustín Zbar, sent a notice to Página 12 regarding the complaint. "There is no doubt that the denunciation made against Página 12 (the first in the world against a media outlet since the approval of the Polish law) represents an abominable act of censorship and undermines the debate over historically proven data," said the document.

Also, a group of congressmen headed by Guillermo Carmona of the Frente para la Victoria party has requested the Executive, through a draft resolution submitted to the Chamber of Deputies, to express its concern through diplomatic actions in the face of the attempt to censor the Argentine media.

"In the context of violence, persecution, manipulation and censorship that oppresses the independent press at a global level, the Argentine Republic, and in particular the National Congress, must speak out on this overt attempt to curtail the freedom of expression of Página 12,” the congressmen said, according to Página 12.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.