REPUBLIC OF POLAND: Peaceful protestors defy escalating assault on freedom of assembly

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29 Jun 2018
[International Secretariat]

Despite an escalating crackdown on peaceful protest, people in Poland continue to take to the streets andcourageously demonstrate against abuse of their rights and threats to the rule of law, Amnesty International said in a new report.

 “Protestors’ refusal to stay silent is a testament to their resilience. Polish authorities are threatening peaceful protestors with detention and prosecution. Many protestors are also put under surveillance as peaceful protest is increasingly criminalized,” said Gauri van Gulik, AmnestyInternational’s Europe Director.

Since 2016, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against repressive legislation aimed at curbing women’s rights and undermining the independence of the judiciary. Protestors have routinely been met with a show of force and restrictive measures that infringe their right to be seen and heard. Hundreds have found themselves in police custody and facing lengthy court proceedings.

In April 2017, an amendment to the Law on Assemblies came into force effectively placing a ban on counter-demonstrations in central Warsaw. The heavy-handed enforcement actions by the security forces have been dramatic. Between April 2017 and March 2018, the governor of the Mazowian province banned 36 assemblies in Warsaw. In 2017, the court in central Warsaw received 632 cases against counter-protestors for breaches of the assembly law. This compares starkly with 2016 where no such charges were brought against protesters.

In parallel with tightening the laws affecting the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, the government has vastly expanded the surveillance powers of law enforcement agencies. The 2016 amendment to the Police Act broadened the scope for surveillance to include such monitoring outside the context of a criminal investigation.

The courts have largely upheld the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. However, this may soon change following the 2017 reforms of the judiciary, which severely undermine the independence of the judiciary by subjecting it to political influence and control.

Judges are indeed experiencing political pressures in Poland. Those judges who have refused to bow to it in the wake of the reforms have already reported harassment, including disciplinary proceedings.

Judge Dominik Czeszkiewicz, who was subjected to disciplinary proceedings after he championed the rights of peaceful protesters in a ruling, told Amnesty International: “It is very difficult to work in these conditions. I cannot fight the whole system. I don’t know when, where and from whom I will get a punch.”

“Peaceful protest is a right, but in Poland it is under serious threat. The power of the street is a crucial check on the power of the state. The Polish government must protect the right of all those determined to come out to defend their freedoms,” said Gauri van Gulik.

“The Polish authorities must stop criminalizing protest, lift disproportionate restrictions on free assembly and expression, and guarantee the independence of the judiciary to ensure the protection of all human rights.”

25 June 20188

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