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Polish Regime Drops Probe of Attack on Priest, Sees 'No Crime'

April 18, 1985|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

WARSAW — The Polish government said Wednesday that it has dropped its investigation into charges by a young Roman Catholic priest that a masked man had attacked him during the Easter weekend and burned Solidarity symbols on his face and body.

The office of the state prosecutor ruled that "no crime had been committed" against the priest, Father Tadeusz Zaleski, the official Polish news agency PAP reported.

The agency said that after interviewing 48 witnesses and medical experts, the prosecutor concluded that there were "no grounds" for accepting the priest's statement that he had been attacked, rendered unconscious with a blast of some unidentified gas and deliberately burned.

Zaleski, 29, from the southern city of Krakow, is known as a human rights activist and a supporter of the outlawed Solidarity union. Among his activities, he has reportedly passed information to underground human rights groups indicating that Tadeusz Fras, a Krakow-area Solidarity activist who died in September, 1983, was murdered. The authorities have ruled Fras' death a suicide.

Epilepsy Theory Advanced

The Krakow police said earlier that Zaleski suffers from epilepsy and may have burned himself accidentally with a candle he was holding when he suffered an epileptic seizure.

The April 6 incident has been widely taken in Poland as evidence that, even after the recent conviction of four secret police officers for the political murder of a pro-Solidarity priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, elements of the police and security apparatus remain out of control.

After meeting with the injured priest over the Easter weekend, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, archbishop of Krakow, issued a strongly worded statement calling for a full investigation and demanding that "the source of the threat be liquidated." Government censors have barred the cardinal's statement from publication in Poland.

Father Zaleski reported that he had been followed by unidentified men for several weeks before the attack, which he said occurred in the darkened basement of the apartment building where he lives with his mother.

Suffered 20 Burns

Church sources and family friends said he sustained about 20 small but distinct burns on his face and abdomen that formed "V" shapes, apparently inflicted to mock Solidarity's V-for-victory symbol. He also suffered burns on one arm where his nylon jacket caught fire as he lay unconscious, these sources said.

The prosecutor, however, said, "The nature of these burns differs basically from the report given by Father Zaleski," PAP reported.

The report also charged that Zaleski showed "incoherence" in recounting the incident and "evaded" certain medical tests that a team of specialists from the Krakow Medical Academy considered important.

Convinced of Cover-up

Reached by telephone Wednesday night, Zaleski told the Associated Press that he will try to reopen the case through his lawyer but that he has little hope of success. "I'm convinced it was a cover-up," he said. "However, I don't believe the perpetrators will be found."

Earlier on Wednesday, before the prosecutor's report was made public, a church official in Warsaw said the national organization of Roman Catholic bishops has confidence in the medical academy's experts but that it has no reason to doubt Zaleski's story.

"Millions of people in Poland carry candles at Easter," the official observed. "It seems odd that he was only one who got burned.

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