President pardons state TV hosts convicted for defaming abortion and LGBT activist

President Andrzej Duda has issued pardons to two stars of state TV under the former conservative government who were found guilty of criminal defamation against a prominent activist for abortion and LGBT rights.

The pardons of Magdalena Ogórek and Rafał Ziemkiewicz were issued before Christmas but not announced by the president’s office. Following media reports earlier this week, a court has now confirmed that the pair have been pardoned.

To już pewne. Magdalena Ogórek i Rafał Ziemkiewicz zostali ułaskawieni przez prezydenta Andrzeja Dudę. Taką informację przekazał @wirtualnapolska Sąd Rejonowy dla Warszawy-Śródmieścia. Nieoficjalnie informowała wcześniej rp.@TropicielWP

— Patryk Michalski (@patrykmichalski) January 12, 2024

The case dates back to 2019, when Ogórek and Ziemkiewicz were presenting satirical news show W tyle wizji on TVP, the state broadcaster that became a propaganda mouthpiece for the Law and Justice (PiS) government when it was in office from 2015 until last month.

On one episode of the show, the pair spoke about Elżbieta Podleśna, an activist best known for being put on trial for the crime of “offending religious feelings” by adding LGBT rainbow colours to an image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

Podleśna has also been a prominent figure in Women’s Strike (Strajk Kobiet), the organisation that had led mass protests against the tightening of Poland’s abortion laws.

During their show, Ogórek and Ziemkiewicz suggested that Podleśna, who is a practising psychologist, used her “quasi-medical skills” to “manipulate” her “brainwashed” patients into attending protests.

Three LGBT activists in Poland have been found not guilty of the crime of offending religious feelings for producing and distributing images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus with rainbow colours added to their halos

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 2, 2021

In response, Podleśna launched action against the TV presenters using Poland’s criminal defamation law. They were found guilty in December 2022, with an appeal against the conviction rejected in May 2023. As a punishment, Ogórek and Ziemkiewicz were ordered to pay Podleśna 10,000 zloty (€2,300) each.

After the May 2023 ruling, Ziemkiewicz described the court’s decision as a “scandal”, saying that it had not taken account of the context that Podleśna had led a group of protesters who aggressively confronted Ogórek outside TVP’s offices.

Podleśna welcomed the verdict, saying that it showed how “even on a station that is so politically subordinated, its officers cannot say everything. They cannot insult people and insinuate with impunity”.

This week, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported that the presidential chancellery had issued pardons to two unnamed individuals on 18 December who were likely to be Ziemkiewicz and Ogórek.

Duda’s office said that he had made the decision based on “the principles of justice and rationality of criminal repression, as well as the incidental nature of the acts of the convicted persons”.

Ziemkiewicz then confirmed to Rzeczpospolita that he and Ogórek had applied for pardons, though he said he was still waiting to hear from a court whether they had been successful.

Today, a district court in Warsaw confirmed to Polish media outlets that the pair had indeed been pardoned. The president’s office has still not commented publicly on the issue.

Media poinformowały wczoraj o „domniemanym” (jak to ujęły) ułaskawieniu przez Prezydenta RP mnie i @ogorekmagda Chodzi o przedwyborcze skazanie karne z art 212 kk za stwierdzenie, że tłuszcza , która napadła na Magdę Ogórek pod TVP zachowywała się „jakby mieli zrobione pranie…

— Rafał A. Ziemkiewicz (@R_A_Ziemkiewicz) January 11, 2024

Duda was an ally of the former PiS government and approved a large increase in state funds for TVP, which subsequently supported the president during his successful 2020 re-election campaign.

Ogórek and Ziemkiewicz were both prominent figures on TVP during PiS’s time in power. Ziemkiewicz also came to international attention when he was banned from entering the UK due to his “conduct and views being at odds with British values”.

Yesterday, Duda also announced that he was launching pardon proceedings for two former PiS government ministers who were this week jailed for two years for abusing their powers during a corruption investigation.

Poland’s government has promised to intervene after right-wing author Rafał Ziemkiewicz was refused entry to the UK „due to conduct and views at odds with British values”.

He has been accused of promoting antisemitism, homophobia and Islamophobia

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 3, 2021

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credits: Magdalena Ogórek/Facebook and Adrian Grycuk/Wikimedia Commons (under CC BY-SA 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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