The EU’s top court sides with Germany over ‘Polish camps’ defamation

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“The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has decided to stand with the liars,” says Lech Obara, the attorney for Stanisław Zalewski. Zalewski is outraged as well. In a statement issued to the press, Obara says: “We are deeply shocked by the ECJ ruling […] which deprived Polish citizens, wronged by foreign publishers with statements such as ‘Polish camps,’ of the benefits of EU provisions allowing for claims for infringement of personal rights via the internet.”

Zalewski said that he feared this would happen, adding that “either the ECJ judges are ignorant, despite their professorial titles, or they are doing this deliberately. They are denying Poles justice. These camps did not come from outer space. They were the work of Germans.”

According to Obara, this ruling is contrary to previous ECJ rulings. “Until now, Luxembourg’s judges stood firmly with the victims and took the view that in the case of internet-based libel with unlimited coverage, the injured party may sue the foreign entity responsible for that slander in the state where his affairs are located, which is most typically the place of residence [or seat] of the slandered person [or organization],” he argues.

Obara states that now “courts in Poland will refuse to receive cases regarding ‘Polish camps’ that may be filed against German publishers. Poles will be forced to file their cases in the country in which the publisher resides.“

This will in turn mean that all actions will have to be filed in German courts, which, experience shows, tend to defend German publishers. It will be all too easy for publishers to defend themselves on the grounds of free speech, which will be assessed as the higher good over defending Polish citizens against defamation.

The case brought by Stanisław Zalewski was against Bavarian broadcaster B5 and a regional portal, which described the concentration death camp Treblinka as a “Polish camp.”

Zalewski’s lawyers demanded an apology and over EUR 10,000 to be donated to the legal association that brought the case. But German attorneys questioned the jurisdiction of a Polish court to hear the case. The Warsaw Appeals Court therefore asked the ECJ for a preliminary ruling in the matter. The ECJ on Thursday ruled in favor of the Germans.

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