I recently criticized the new Polish law criminalizing any statements attributing the genocide of Jews to Polish forces or actions. The legislature approved a bill making it a crime to use statements suggesting Poland bears responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany. You could receive up to three years in prison for calling Auschwitz-Birkenau a “Polish death camp.” USNews is reporting that the first target of this abusive law has now been announced: the Argentine Pagina 12 daily. The newspaper was accused of breaching a new law by suggesting that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.
This horrific, anti-free speech, anti-free press measure is being praised by the Polish League Against Defamation. It cites how in December 2017, Pagina 12 published an article on the Jedwabne pogrom of 1941 in which Nazi occupiers and local poles colluded in the massacre of at least 340 Jews.
What is most chilling is that the Polish effort shows a willingness to prosecute individuals and media internationally, not just for publications inside Poland. This is a dangerous trend that we have already seen in countries like France where Twitter was sued over anti-Semitic comments. A single nation could potentially curtail free speech for the entire Internet if courts allow such actions.
The Polish law is part of a trend in the West to curtail free speech and to criminalize even historical disagreements. Some countries have specifically sought to criminalize certain opinions about history, particularly over genocide. Poland passed its law. Russia moved in 2015 to criminalize denial of genocide under the same misguided approach. I previously wrote about a similar law passed in France as not just a denial of free speech but academic freedom. The law was later struck down. The Russians moved just weeks after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland also violation freedom of speech for its criminalization of the denial of the killings of Armenians as genocide. The European Court of Human Rights found that Switzerland violated a Turkish politician’s right to freedom of speech by convicting Dogu Perincek for denying that the 1915 Armenian killings in the Ottoman empire constituted a genocide: “It was undisputed that Perincek’s conviction and punishment, together with the order to pay compensation to the Switzerland-Armenia Association, had constituted an interference with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression.”
The Poles have joined an ignoble but growing clubs of speech criminalization and censorships in the West. The implications for Poland are obvious, but their assertion of international enforcement also raises troubling questions for free speech and academic freedom around the world.