CIVICUS

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Poland

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Last updated on 14.12.2018 at 15:10

Poland - Overview

The Polish constitution enshrines protections for the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and these rights have for the most part been respected.

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Polish ruling party pressures cinemas to stop showing clerical abuse film

Polish ruling party pressures cinemas to stop showing clerical abuse film

Members of the Law and Justice (Pis) party have reportedly pressured cinemas to stop showing the film, which deals with abuse of children by members of the clergy.

Expression

On 16th October 2018, UK daily newspaper The Telegraph reported that several cinemas in Poland had come under pressure from people close to the ruling Law and Justice (Pis) party to stop showing the film Clergy (Kler). The Pis president reportedly attempted to prevent a local cultural centre Ostroleka from showing the film. The cultural centre in Ostroleka did not include the film on its October list of showings. The film deals with the subject of abuse of children by members of the clergy, a taboo subject for public debate in deeply Catholic Poland and for the right-wing PiS party. Łukasz Adamski, a conservative film critic “says that despite these ‘incidents’, the fact that Kler was made and co-financed by a state-run institution, and now is widely discussed in Poland, is proof that there is ‘no censorship’ in the country.” Others, however, like Oscar-nominated director Agnieszka Holland, have warned of clear ideological pressure being put on artists by the PiS government.


Peaceful Assembly

On 11th November 2018, around 200,000 people took part in a march in Warsaw to celebrate 100 years of Poland’s restored independence. The march was originally planned by far-right groups and was banned on 7th November by the mayor of Warsaw, who said that the city had suffered enough from “aggressive nationalism”. In response, President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki decided to hold an official march following the same route as planned by the nationalist rally. On 8th November, a Warsaw court overturned the mayor’s ban. The opposition led by President of the European Council Donald Tusk held a separate event by a monument to Józef Piłsudski, one of most important figures in Poland’s fight for independence. 

In recent years the main independence march in Warsaw has been dominated by the far right. This year, some media outlets reported on sporadic firing of illegal flares and the display of occasional fascist banners. However, the extent of the divisiveness on display this year did not compare to last year’s xenophobia and racism. This year, reports indicated that the vast majority of the crowd was peaceful and waved standard Polish flags.

Association

Freedom of association is generally respected in law and practice in Poland, where a wide range of civil society groups and unions operate without undue interference. There are however concerns that provisions of the new anti-terrorism bill, and provisions of a new Police Act adopted in February 2016, may be used to target individuals and groups working on sensitive topics or expressing dissenting opinions. Specifically, these laws give the authorities wide-ranging powers to conduct surveillance and access personal information, without sufficient safeguards.

Peaceful Assembly

Most recently, tens of thousands took to the streets and organized other meetings and events as part of the “Black protests” to express their opposition to a proposed total ban on abortion.

Freedom of peaceful assembly is generally respected, and protests occur with regularity. Most recently, tens of thousands took to the streets and organized other meetings and events as part of the “Black protests” to express their opposition to a proposed total ban on abortion. Days after the protests, lawmakers rejected the proposal. However, the new anti-terrorism law contains provisions which seriously undermine protected rights. Under the new law, where a sufficiently high ‘state of alarm’ is declared, the Minister of Internal Affairs may order a prohibition on public assembly. Evidentiary support is not required to declare a state of alarm. The law also allows for heightened surveillance, increased police powers to search individuals, and in some cases increased power to shoot to kill.

Expression

The media in Poland is mostly independent and diverse, and freedom of expression and freedom from censorship are constitutionally protected.

The media in Poland is mostly independent and diverse, and freedom of expression and freedom from censorship are constitutionally protected. However, these protections are to some extent undermined by subsidiary laws, including those which make defamation a criminal offence. There are also fears that the new government is seeking to exert greater control over the media. The new anti-terrorism law allows for websites to be blocked without prior judicial order. Additionally, at the end of 2015, parliament passed a law allowing a government minister to appoint and dismiss the supervisory and management boards of public television and radio, thereby undermining guarantees for their independence. President Duda signed the law on 7 January 2016, despite vigorous protests from civil society, the OSCE, and the EU.