Home News Rush to defend Polanski sparks backlash

Rush to defend Polanski sparks backlash

Published on 03/10/2009

Zurich -- A high-profile rush to defend Roman Polanski after the film director's arrest sparked a backlash on Wednesday, as a growing number of politicians called for him to face justice over a three-decade-old child sex case.

Details of Polanski’s detention also emerged, with a Swiss newspaper saying he was being held in a rudimentary cell in Zurich, receiving five Swiss francs (3.30 euros, 4.85 dollars) in pocket money daily and tracksuits to wear.

"He told us that he did not lack anything and that he was very well treated. This does not mean at all that he is happy about his situation," Marek Wieruszewski, Poland’s consul in Bern, told the French-language Le Matin daily.

The world’s cultural elite and some prominent European politicians had rushed to back the Franco-Polish filmmaker after he was arrested Saturday on his arrival in Zurich to collect a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

But now others have warned that such a stance risks damaging efforts to fight rape and smacks of favouritism, with Polanski in 1978 having pleaded guilty in the United States to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

On Wednesday, the French government dropped its public support for Polanski, saying he was not above the law, despite strong previous backing from its culture and foreign ministers.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also distanced himself from efforts to push for Polanski’s release — though his own foreign minister has supported freeing the 76-year-old director of The Pianist.

Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner had written to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton calling for Polanski to be freed.

"This case of course involved a leading Polish director, and dates back many years, but it’s also about rape, and sex with a child," Tusk told reporters.

"We mustn’t mix that with politics, or play the patriotic card."

In Switzerland, under fire from Polanski backers for bowing to the US request to arrest him, politicians defended the action that could see the director extradited to the United States.

"It is really shocking to me that the facts against Polanski are being minimised," said Maria Roth-Bernasconi, a Socialist parliamentarian.

Her Christian-Democrat colleague, Dominique de Buman, said "everyone is equal" before the law.

A member of the British parliament was blunt as he called on the 47-nation Council of Europe to support Polanski’s extradition to the United States to send a strong message against rape.

"Polanski took a 13 year-old girl, gave her drugs, and then had anal sex with her," said Denis MacShane, Britain’s ex-minister for Europe who also represents his country at the Council of Europe’s parliament.

"Polanski committed an act of paedophile rape and should be held accountable for this violence in order to send a message that sodomising a little girl is not to be excused because of his genius as a filmmaker."

But Polanski has no shortage of supporters, including at least 110 film industry figures who signed a petition calling for his release.

Among them are leading Hollywood figures like Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen and David Lynch, as well as Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton and Monica Bellucci.

Many Polish cultural figures have also remained solidly behind him.

Renowned director Andrzej Wajda was steering a drive to gather signatures for a petition pressing Polish authorities to do more to help Polanski.

Polanski fled the United States in 1978 before sentencing on the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He has never returned, even missing the ceremony for his Oscar award for The Pianist in 2003.

He agreed a plea bargain in the case after the girl testified she had been drugged and sodomised against her will.

Polanski’s legal team argued the conviction should be annulled because the judge who heard the 1970s case had improperly colluded with prosecutors. The judge has since died.

The woman named as the victim in the 1977 case has joined defence lawyers in urging the dismissal of the case.