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Polanski decision angers US audience

Polanski is now free to leave his Gstaad chalet named "Milky Way" Keystone

Disappointment, disgust and some understanding – reactions in the United States to the Swiss decision to set Roman Polanski free have been mainly negative.

This content was published on July 13, 2010 - 13:53
Susan Vogel-Misicka, swissinfo.ch

As the news spread, those in the legal and entertainment industries were quick to voice opinions. Readers have also been keen to put their two cents’ worth in.



“Shock: The Swiss set Polanski free” was the headline on Time magazine’s website, saying that the decision practically guarantees that the 76-year-old director will be able to avoid prison for the rest of his life.

As the Los Angeles Times put it, “Once again, Polanski is saved by legal nonsense”. Meanwhile, a Washington Post columnist wrote, “As long as Polanski steers clear of US justice, why don’t we steer clear of his movies?”.

The New York Times referred to a new cultural trench between the US and Europe as a result of the extradition attempt to prosecute Polanski for a 1977 sex case involving a 13-year-old girl. Yet it questioned whether he had already been punished enough – or whether his fame and talent had masked the severity of the crime.

The answer to that was clear for Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Swiss authorities denied the request to extradite Roman Polanski,” saying that his office had complied with the requirements for the extradition request.

In a prepared statement, Cooley said the Swiss decision was a “disservice to justice and other victims as a whole”.

“Very divisive”

Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety magazine, took a pragmatic approach. “It looks good for [Cooley] to go after Polanski; it plays well with Joe Public because Polanski is an easy guy to demonise – he has a foreign accent, he’s a Hollywood director and celebrity,” Gaydos told swissinfo.ch.

He went on to say that the case was “very divisive” in the Hollywood community, pointing out that things have changed a lot since the Sixties and Seventies, when there was a culture of free love.

“It’s not clear that regular working people in Hollywood support Polanski … it’s now a more buttoned-up corporate world, and one good thing to come out of it is that people are more educated about sexual exploitation and see it as a serious crime,” Gaydos said.

Some have wondered whether Polanski’s behaviour would have been tolerated had he been a Catholic priest rather than a talented filmmaker.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told swissinfo.ch that she was disappointed with the Swiss justice system’s ruling.

“The Swiss did not act appropriately in this case. Polanski should not be rewarded for hiding from law enforcement,” said Blaine, calling on consumers to boycott the work of Polanski and his supporters.

“The Swiss decision is an incredibly important and sad event for both governments and, most of all, for children who are abused,” she said.

Feedback frenzy

American readers around the world have been commenting passionately about the case. While voicing dismay at what had happened in 1977, many said they felt that the Swiss government had acted correctly in freeing Polanski on Monday.

As a number of them pointed out, Switzerland had detained Polanksi and put him under house arrest while looking into the matter – which was far more than France, his adopted country, had done.

Yet other posters expressed outrage, focusing on the crime itself rather than the rejected extradition request.

The majority of feedback to swissinfo.ch’s article was against the decision. The story was picked up by the Drudge Report, a well-read conservative news aggregation website.

Some readers went as far as to describe Switzerland as a land of chocolate and child abusers; others said they would be boycotting the nation and its products.

These sorts of comments attracted fierce criticism from fellow Americans.

“Hypocrites! Where was all the disgust and anger before the Swiss held him? The Swiss are not the problem, the US is,” said one.

“I would like to thank all of you redneck posters that just made it more uncomfortable for American tourists who travel to Switzerland and enjoy its beauty,” said another.

Extradition requests

Switzerland handles about 200 extradition requests, including five from the US, every year.

Of the total, about one in two cases are contested according to the justice ministry.

Only 5% of requests are rejected.

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Polanski case: timeline

Mar 1977: Roman Polanski, 43, has sexual intercourse with Samantha Geimer, 13.

Apr: Polanski pleads not guilty at trial for rape then in August changes plea to guilty of statutory rape; sentenced to 3 months jail for psychiatric tests.

Jan 1978: Flees to Paris, judge then refuses to give verdict in absentia.

Aug 1994: Prosecutor refuses to dismiss case unless Polanski appears in court. Polanski had already ended the civil case by paying Geimer $225,000.

Dec 2008: Polanski lawyers call for case to be dropped over original trial's unfairness.

Sep 26, 2009: Polanski arrested on arrival at Zurich airport.

Sep 28: Appeals against extradition request; receives wide support from film world and French politicians and intellectuals.

Oct 6: Federal Justice Office refuses to release him.

Oct 23: US formally requests extradition.

Nov 25: Swiss court agrees to house arrest in Gstaad on bail of SFr4.5 million.

Dec 4: Polanski moves to Gstaad chalet, wearing electronic surveillance bracelet.

Jan 2010: Los Angeles court rejects request for trial in absentia, a decision confirmed by appeal court in April.

July 12: Swiss justice minister announces rejection of extradition request.

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