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Polish writer faces possible prison sentence for calling president a ‘moron’

Polish President Andrzej Duda stands at a lectern near Polish flags.
Polish President Andrzej Duda in June 2020.
(Petr David Josek / Associated Press)

A popular Polish writer is facing a potential sentence of up to three years in prison for calling the nation’s president a “moron” on social media.

Jakub Zulczyk, best known for writing a novel that was turned into the HBO crime series “Blinded by the Lights,” had criticized the manner in which Polish President Andrzej Duda — a close ally of former President Trump — had reacted to the electoral victory of President Biden last year.

Zulczyk wrote on Facebook on Monday that a district prosecutor in Warsaw had filed an indictment against him based on an article in the penal code that makes it a crime to insult the head of state.

Zulczyk said he believed that he is probably “the first writer in this country in a long time to be tried for what they wrote.”

People have been charged in the past with insulting previous Polish presidents in the post-Communist era under the country’s broad insult laws. Fines or community service — not years in prison — are seen as the most likely punishment.

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However, Zulczyk’s case also comes amid what many see as an erosion of democratic standards in Poland since the right-wing populist Law and Justice party won power in 2015. Critics accuse authorities of aggressively using prosecutorial powers on behalf of those in power.

Poland’s top human rights official has denounced a top court ruling that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion, saying it condemns women to torture.

The comment in question concerns a critical response by Zulczyk to a congratulatory tweet by Duda after U.S. media called the election for Biden on Nov. 7.

Duda offered his congratulations to Biden “for a successful presidential campaign. As we await the nomination by the Electoral College, Poland is determined to upkeep high-level and high-quality PL-US strategic partnership for an even stronger alliance.”

At the time of Duda’s tweet, many other European leaders were offering full-fledged congratulations to Biden. At home, Duda was criticized by many for suggesting that Biden’s victory was somehow not definitive and that the electoral college could still change the result.

That same day, Zulczyk wrote on Facebook that, as someone with a master’s degree in American studies, he had never heard of a “nomination by the Electoral College” in the U.S. system. He said the Democratic candidate had clearly won the election.

“Joe Biden is the 46th president of the United States. Andrzej Duda is a moron,” he wrote.

Prosecutors made their indictment based on the complaint of a private individual, and it was unclear whether Duda had been informed about it.


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