CIVICUS

MonitorbetaTracking civic space

Poland

Live rating: Narrowed

Last updated on 08.08.2018 at 13:30

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.

read more

from the news feed

view the news feed
Government removes criminal sanctions from "Holocaust Law"

Government removes criminal sanctions from "Holocaust Law"

On 27th June, through an expedited process the Polish parliament passed amendments to the "Holocaust Law" which removed criminal sanctions for claiming Poland's complicity with Nazi crimes during WWII.

Expression

On 27th June, in an emergency session, the Polish parliament passed an amendment to Article 55a of the "Holocaust Law". Article 55a had been introduced by the government in February 2018 to impose criminal sanctions on anyone that accused the Polish state of complicity in Nazi crimes during World War II. That move had placed a great strain on Poland’s relationships with the United States, Israel, the academic community and civil society organisations. Pressure on the government yielded results through the changes introduced on 27th June, with the BBC reporting that damage to relations with the US and Israel had prompted the Polish government to act. Under the new amendment, anyone who “publicly and against the facts” accuses the Polish nation of being complicit in Nazi crimes will now face a civil, rather than a criminal, procedure. Despite this partial victory, some critics argue that the Polish government has still not gone far enough to water down the Holocaust Law. In February, the Polish President Andrzej Duda had referred the law to the Constitutional Tribunal, which has yet to make a ruling.

Peaceful Assembly

In late June 2018, Amnesty International published a report on the right to peaceful protest in Poland. The report highlights a range of issues related to the "criminalisation of peaceful protest" in Poland today. These include the use of force against protestors, criminal charges brought against protestors, surveillance of activists and differential treatment of assemblies by the authorities. The report argues that current developments are very alarming, especially in light of the legislative reforms aiming to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

According to the report

“to date, the courts in Poland have largely upheld the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and have ensured that the exercise of these rights is not penalized. However, pursuant to the 2017 reform that effectively put the judiciary under political control of the government, there are growing concerns in Poland that activists, human rights defenders and others will lose one of the last pillars that guarantees protection and respect of human rights: the independent courts. The link between exercising the rights to freedom of assembly and expression and an independent judiciary is undeniable: the latter is necessary to ensure the former, and the former is necessary to defend the latter.”

In recent months, despite constant protests on the streets, and the threat to apply the Article 7 procedure from the EU, the governing PiS party continues to intimidate judges and seems intent on pressing ahead with controversial reforms of the country's judiciary.

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.