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Poland tries to pass harsh sex crime laws, decries Polanski arrest

Yesterday, award-winning director Roman Polanski was arrested in Zurich for a long-outstanding U.S. warrant. In 1977, Polanski was arrested for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty, and fled the county in 1978 to avoid going to jail. He eventually became a dual citizen of France (which does not extradite) and Poland.

Today, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stop the extradition. Kouchner called the arrest "a bit sinister." In these countries, Polanski is widely regarded as an exceptional filmmaker and a victim of the overzealous American justice system. (HBO made a documentary about this dichotomy, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)

But Sikorski's defense of Polanski comes at an awkward time: Poland is in the process of implementing much-harsher punishments for people who commit sex crimes. Last week, all but three of the 460 members of Poland's lower chamber of parliament voted to punish certain sex offenders with chemical castration. People convicted of raping a person under 15 (the crime Polanski pled guilty to) or a close relative would be given drugs to diminish their libido, under the new law. On top of chemical castration, there are increased penalties for incest and pedophilia. Trying to justify pedophilia would also be criminalized. 

Regardless, it seems Polanski might end up serving his time in the United States, ending his 31 years on the lam. While abroad, Polanski has made a number of films -- including Tess, which was dedicated to his wife Sharon Tate (who was murdered by the Manson Family) and the Oscar-winning The Pianist, set during the Holocaust. After being forced into the Kraków Ghetto during World War II, Polanski escaped the concentration camps; his mother did not and was killed in Auschwitz. He also made arguably the creepiest movie of all time, The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp as a used book salesman who tries to track down the devil.

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Roman Polanski's long extradition perdition

Roman Polanksi, the famed director of Chinatown and The Pianist, who has not set foot in the United States for more than three decades, is now facing extradition proceedings in Switzerland -- at the request of the Los Angeles district attorney's office.

Upon touching down at the Zurich airport on Saturday, after departing his native France, Polanksi was detained by authorities. Unlike France, Switzerland has an extradition agreement with the United States that applies to cases like that of Polanski, who is wanted in connection with a 32-year-old sex case.

In 1977, Mr Polanski admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old in Los Angeles. The woman has since identified herself and publicly offered her personal forgiveness. But that has not changed the course of legal proceedings.

As Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, told the New York Times:

"Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant."

Polanski's case is perhaps not unique in the world of extradition law, but it is provocative. The notion of the Los Angeles DA's office for 32 years tracking the director's busy European travel schedule, waiting for an opportunity, whilst he chose to appear at various film festivals via video-conference rather than in person, is fascinating. But beyond the celebrity factor, it's hard to pin down exactly what seems so incongruous.

Is it simply that in a post-9/11 world we're now accustomed to thinking of "extradition" in connection with national security interests, and clear-and-present danger?

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