Polish Secrecy Law Sparks Outrage

WARSAW -- Polish media and opposition groups accused the ruling left-wing coalition Friday of trying to curb freedom of speech after parliament approved a law protecting state secrets.

The new law, pushed by the coalition through the lower house Thursday, imposes stiff prison terms for all who disclose classified information on the country's defenses, secret services and strategic economic information.

Journalists' organizations, newspapers and the opposition to the government of Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, which sponsored the law, declared the measures undemocratic, stifling and likely to encourage corruption.

Friday newspapers ran huge front- page headlines denouncing the legislation, calling it an attempt to curb freedom of speech. The law's advocates say it would ensure that journalists are not above the law.

Some newspapers said the left-wing coalition, grouping two parties rooted in the old communist system, were afraid of the free press, just like the regime that ruled Poland since 1945.

Even the left-leaning Trybuna, which usually supports the government, said the law was likely to be abused by state officials. "State officials tend to abuse any secrecy regulations to veil their incompetence and wrongdoings," it said.

The opposition and journalists said the battle was not over because it needed to clear the Senate, the upper house, and be approved by President Lech Walesa. Walesa would likely veto the measure, and it is not known whether the government would be able to muster enough votes to over-ride the veto.