A 65-year-old man was detained by police and charged by prosecutors for the crime of insulting the president, which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.

The incident took place during an event in the small town of Łowicz as part of Andrzej Duda’s campaign to win a second term as president. A small group of protesters attended the event holding banners. One of them read: “We have an idiot for a president” (“Mam durnia za prezydenta”).

The man holding the banner (pictured below) was detained on the spot by police, who later confirmed that the reason was the “offensive” words on it, according to broadcaster TVN.

Subsequently, prosecutors charged the man with insulting the president, reports Polskie Radio. Doing so is a criminal offence in Poland, punishable with potential jail time. TVN reports that the man confessed to committing the alleged act and apologised for his behaviour.

Charges of insulting the president are rare in Poland but not unheard of. In one infamous case in 2006, police spent months tracking down a homeless man who had drunkenly said that the then president, Lech Kaczyński, was a “thief”.

Two years later, a man was given a suspended prison sentence for creating a computer program that made President Kaczyński’s official website appear at the top of search-engine results when someone typed in a slang word for penis.

However, in a case that apparently influenced today’s event, in 2008 prosecutors decided not to charge former President Lech Wałęsa for using the same words – “We have an idiot for a president” – in reference to Kaczyński. Today’s protester indicated on his banner that he was quoting Wałęsa. Duda hails from the same PiS party as Kaczyński, and in 2008-10 worked in his chancellery.

Under Kaczyński’s successor, Bronisław Komorowski, an unemployed teacher was twice convicted for anonymously writing vulgar comments about the president online. He received a suspended prison sentence for the first offence, and a year of community service for the second.

Another man, Robert Frycz, was sentenced to community service for creating a website, antykomor.pl, that mocked Komorowski and allowed users to play a game in which they could shoot at the president’s image.

In Poland, it is illegal to insult not only the president, but also the Polish nation or state (punishable by up to three years in prison), state emblems (up to one year), and even monuments (community service), as well as to offend religious sentiment (up to two years).

An OSCE study found that, among nine types of defamation and insult laws, Poland has the joint most and, unlike many other countries, imposes potential custodial sentences for all of them.

Poland’s “insult laws” and the threat to free speech

Main image credit: Marcin Stepien/Agencja Gazeta

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