The Polish government announced an amnesty yesterday that could lead to the release of nine leading political dissidents.
An assistant state prosecutor acknowledged at a press conference that the order covers charges against the members and sympathizers of the Worker's Defense Committee who were arrested two months ago.
The committee was formed to assist workers jailed in June 1976 for rioting to protest food price increases. Although most of the rioters have been freed, the committee leaders were arrested in May and accused of sending articles abroad.
Some observers suggested that Poland wants to avoid embarrassment over the case at a time when rights issues are prominent internationally. Communist Party chief Edward Gierek recently told foreign visitors that he did not "want to make martyrs" of political dissidents.
The amnesty was announced in connection with Poland's national day this Friday. Three years ago, a comparable amnesty resulted in freeing of 50,000 prisoners. It will take several months to process all possible candidates and the number affected by the new order will be known then, said assistant prosecutor Witold Rozwens.
Five persons still in jail for offenses during the food riots will not be freed since they were convicted of clear criminal acts not related to political protest, said Rozwens. Others ineligible include those convicted of murder, rape, large economic crimes, robbery and collaboration with the Nazis in World War II.