This dispatch is based on information arriving from Poland:
In an apparent attempt to mitigate public anger over trials of Solidarity activists, Poland's military government yesterday put on trial a former high party official who was close to Edward Gierek, the disgraced former Communist Party leader.
Under the glare of television lights, Maciej Szczepanski, former head of the state radio and television committee, and four close aides sat in a dock surrounded by police officers. They are charged with accepting bribes from foreign companies, misappropriation of state funds, mismanagement and falsification of official documents.
Szczepanski and his former aides were led into Room 252 in the central Warsaw courthouse, just down the corridor from where trials of workers accused of staging strikes in violation of martial law were taking place.
While the workers were handcuffed, however, Szczepanski's arms were free as he entered the courtroom, bantering with his police guards.
The trial, which was begun sooner than originally scheduled, is expected to last several months as the four-member court sifts through 128 volumes of evidence and listens to more than 200 witnesses.
Szczepanski, whose power in the field of television and radio was unchallenged under the Gierek government, has become a symbol of free living, corrupt and amoral practices among the party elite during the 1970s, a period when living standards collapsed for most of the population. But although many Poles profess to want to see him punished, the extensive official publicity given to his case has led some to believe he is being used as a scapegoat.
Szczepanski's defense lawyers argued yesterday that they had not been given adequate time to prepare his case and, because of martial law, had not had sufficient access to their client. The judges, however, refused their requests for a postponement.
The extensive time that is expected to be devoted to Szczepanski's case was in sharp contrast to the "summary procedures" being used to try the workers, whose trials have lasted an average of two or three days. They have brought sentences of at least three years with no right of appeal.
Three workers from the Huta Warszawa steel mill were on trial yesterday for allegedly organizing a strike there on Dec. 14, the day after martial law was declared.
On the same floor, four workers were in court on charges of having led a strike at the Ursus tractor factory near Warsaw. Among them was Jan Jozef Lipski, an eminent, 55-year-old literary critic from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, who was also a member of the dissident Committee for Social Self-Defense (known as KOR from its Polish initials).
Lipski is suffering from heart trouble, and much of yesterday's proceedings were aimed at establishing whether he was healthy enough to stand trial. He reportedly went to the tractor factory shortly after martial law was declared and as the strike there already was under way.
Other trials included workers from the huge F.S.O. car factory in Warsaw. The Communist Party daily, Trybuna Ludu, reported on trials of Solidarity strike leaders in a number of other cities, including Szczecin, Jelena Gora, Katowice, Lodz and Liblin. The harshest sentences so far have been in Katowice, where workers got up to seven years.
The workers' trials in Warsaw yesterday were well attended by supporters of the defendants, some of whom wore Solidarity buttons with black mourning strips or badges depicting Poland's patron saint, the Black Madonna. A Black Madonna pin became a symbol of the workers movement because Solidarity leader Lech Walesa invariably wore one on his left lapel.
Young men avidly scribbled portions of the testimony in notebooks. Older men, obviously workers, leaned forward on wooden benches, listening to every word.
By contrast, Szczepanski's trial was sparsely attended. Permission slips were required for admission, but this rule was waived later in the day. One or two people ventured in, sat down for a few minutes, and then left.
"I just wanted to look at the son of a bitch," said one elderly man, referring to Szczepanski.