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Poland Senate approves controversial Holocaust speech law

[JURIST] Poland's Senate [official website, in Polish] approved a legislation [text, PDF, in Polish] Thursday criminalizing speeches against the national government that suggest the country was responsible for the Holocaust.

The legislation, titled "Act on the Institute of National Remembrance - Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation," effectively imposes a three-year prison sentence for statements that "publicly and against the facts ascribe responsibility or co-responsibility for the crimes perpetrated by the Third German Reich to the Polish nation or the Polish state."

The bill does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional statements in this regard, and goes further in criminalizing statements that blame Poland for any "crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes" or for suggesting that the nation "grossly reduces liability" for the perpetrators of such crimes. The bill further states that this law would apply to a citizen and foreign national alike, "regardless of the place where the prohibited act was committed."

While Poland Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo [official profile] defended the legislation [Reuters report] stating that Polish citizens were just as much victims as Jews, Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon "categorically" opposed [press release] the senate decision to approve the legislation stating: "Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts."

The US State Department [official website], while acknowledging that phrases such as "Polish death camps" are inaccurate, misleading and hurtful, expressed concern [press release] about the legislation:

if enacted this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse. We all must be careful not to inhibit discussion and commentary on the Holocaust. We believe open debate, scholarship, and education are the best means of countering inaccurate and hurtful speech.

We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation, if enacted, could have on Poland's strategic interests and relationships - including with the United States and Israel.

The bill will now go to President Andrzej Duda [official website], who has 21 days to decide [Reuters report] whether to sign it into law.

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