SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 12, 2016

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):Princeton University

Region & Country:Europe | Poland

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 12, 2016, Princeton University Professor Jan Tomasz Gross was questioned for five hours in Katowice, Poland, by a public prosecutor as to whether an article he wrote “publicly insulted the nation.” If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison. 

Professor Gross is a historian, sociologist, and professor at Princeton University. He is best known for his 2001 book, “Neighbors”, in which he describes the 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jewish men, women and children by Polish villagers. In September 2015, he wrote an article about Polish violence against Jews during the Second World War which was published by the Project Syndicate outlet. His article claims that the Poles killed more Jews than the Germans did during the German occupation. Complaints were reportedly filed by Polish civilians against the article, which they claimed insulted Poland’s history and violated article 133 of the Polish penal code for “insulting the nation.” On April 12, 2016, at the request of Poland’s public prosecutor, Professor Gross returned to Poland for questioning. In October 2016, after a lower-ranked prosecutor recommended that the case be dropped, Poland’s public prosecutor general announced that the investigation into Professor Gross would continue.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about an investigation into a scholar in apparent retaliation for the non-violent exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom expression, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Poland is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process, and fair trial.