- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009


ZURICH, Switzerland

A high-profile rush to defend Roman Polanski after the film director’s arrest sparked a backlash Wed nesday 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 $4.85 in pocket money daily and track suits to wear.

The world’s cultural elite and some prominent European politicians 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.

Now others have warned that such a stance risks damaging efforts to fight rape and smacks of favoritism; Polanski pleaded guilty in the United States in 1978 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.”

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, had written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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,” Mr. 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 U.S. 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 minimized,” said Maria Roth-Bernasconi, a Socialist parliamentarian.

Her Christian-Democratic colleague, Dominique de Buman, said “everyone is equal” before the law.

Leonard Bender, a parliamentarian from the center-right Liberals, said, “Switzerland bent before the law, and it is to its honor.”

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 … 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 pedophile rape and should be held accountable for this violence in order to send a message that sodomizing a little girl is not to be excused because of his genius as a filmmaker.”

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 including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and David Lynch as well as Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton and Monica Bellucci.

Many Polish cultural figures also have 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.

“The events of 30 years ago and Roman Polanski’s role in them were morally reprehensible. But we draw attention to the fact that Polanski’s departure from the United States was simply a matter of escaping a judicial lynching,” the petition says.

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 for “The Pianist” in 2003.

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

Polanski’s legal team argued that 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 defense lawyers in urging the dismissal of the case.

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