Prosecutors file indictment against women’s rights activists as government continues to target WHRDs
EU withholds billions of Euros from Poland
As Poland did not sufficiently address its rule of law problems, in mid-October 2022 the European Commission decided to withhold not only the COVID-19 recovery fund payments (36 billion Euros in grants and loans) but also the EU Cohesion funds, aimed at assisting poorer member states. Poland was to receive over 75 billion Euros from the cohesion funds in the 2021 - 2027 budget period. European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita that Brussels is withholding “virtually all funds for Poland” until they repair the judiciary. President Andrzej Duda framed the EU’s move as an attempt by “liberal-left elites” in the West to remove the Polish government.
According to Jakub Jaraczewski, Research Coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, the increased financial pressure by the European Commission comes after a partial retreat of the Polish government and the dismantling of the problematic Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. The EU apparently sees some prospects for further success, especially given Poland's looming 2023 parliamentary elections and the majority of Polish society blaming the government for withholding EU funds.
Anti-German rhetoric strengthening
On 1st September 2022, the Polish government announced that it is demanding reparations for the German occupation from 1939 to 1945. By their calculations, Germany should pay 1.3 trillion dollars as compensation for the losses Poland suffered. On 3rd October 2022, foreign minister Zbigniew Rau signed a formal diplomatic note in order to initiate a “permanent, comprehensive and final legal and material settlement of the consequences of German aggression and occupation from 1939 to 1945. German government officials rejected the demands, which were preceded by an anti-Germany campaign, presumably to keep PiS’s vote base active and loyal. In August 2022, government politicians and government mouthpieces started to use anti-German rhetoric regularly, depicting Germany as a colonising power which wants to take away the independence of Poland, and opposition politicians as serving German interests. PiS’s attacks tend to play on the narrative that Germany and Russia had and have plans to rule over Europe, and that these plans, as, for example, the 1939 invasion of Poland shows, include exploiting and/or annihilating Poland.
Ruling coalition loses votes
At the end of September 2022, Paweł Kukiz, leader of the small right-wing group Kukiz’15 in the parliament, temporarily withdrew from an agreement to vote with the ruling coalition because insufficient progress was made in introducing ‘justices of the peace’ to the justice system. Kukiz’s group voted with the senior coalition member Law and Justice Party (PiS) in exchange for PiS supporting some of their longstanding policy aims, among them the introduction of ‘justices of the peace’, a type of elected local judge. Without Kukiz’15’s support, PiS only has 231 votes in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm.
Children's rights NGO sued
The Polish government’s deputy justice minister Marcin Warchoł is seeking charges against an NGO, the Children’s Rights Defence Office (BOPD), after it reported in early August 2022 that in order to understand Jesus Christ’s sufferings better, children at a Catholic summer camp had their hands tied by priests and were not even allowed to use the toilet on their own. Instead, they were “offered ‘help’ in this activity by an adult man.” BOPD also reported that camp participants could only use their own mobile phones for 15 minutes per day.
The deputy justice minister argues that the NGO falsely reported a crime and discriminated against the organisers of the camp based on their religion. Each of these offences is punishable by two years in prison. “These accusations are in fact discrimination against the faithful, as well as stripping the participants and organisers of their dignity. … Recognition of religious practices as criminal practices…creates a sense of fear among children and their parents,” wrote the Justice ministry in a press release.
"Binding a child and forcing him to remain in such a state and preventing contact with parents and loved ones by answering a cell phone and forcing him to restrain physiological activities - in my opinion, are a form of physical and mental abuse of a child,” wrote Karolina Krupa-Gaweł, president of BOPD. BOPD notified the prosecutors of a possible crime and shared the information they received from a whistleblower with the public on social media.
Thousands celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day in Poland
On 24th August 2022, thousands celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day on the streets with marches and gatherings across Poland. 24th August marks the country’s secession from the Soviet Union in 1991. This year the day also marked the six-month anniversary of Russia’s war against Ukraine. It is estimated that refugees and pre-war immigrants make up around seven to eight percent of the population in Poland.
Meanwhile, on 25th September 2022, an activist of the far-right party Konfederacja organised a protest against the “Ukrainisation of Poland” in Sanok, a Polish town near the Ukrainian border. According to the event’s live stream, nobody turned up. A similar protest was organised for the previous day in the country’s capital, Warsaw. That event was attended by 150-200 people.
The far right organised an anti-Ukrainian protest in the town of Sanok and precisely zero people turned up.— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) September 25, 2022
For years Polish nationalists have tried to stir up hatred towards Poland's large Ukrainian migrant (and now refugee) community. But they have consistently failed pic.twitter.com/0BmR1YiFcl
Pro-marriage march in Warsaw
On 18th September 2022, thousands of people participated in the annual March of Life and Family in Warsaw. This year the event was dedicated to the “institution of marriage”. Participants held banners encouraging people to procreate and discouraging them from divorcing. President Andrzej Duda thanked the participants as they passed the presidential palace for their “attachment to the noblest ideals”.
Demonstrations for and against women’s rights
On 14th October 2022, a small demonstration and counter-demonstration were held in front of a courthouse in Warsaw during the trial of women’s rights activist Justyna Wydrzyńska. As reported earlier on CIVICUS Monitor, Wydrzynska is accused of aiding and abetting a pregnancy termination, which is considered a crime in Poland and is punishable by three years in prison. The trial will move forward in January 2023.
On the occasion of the previous hearing, Hillary Margolis, a senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch stated:
“Dragging a woman’s rights activist into court on accusations of helping a domestic violence victim shows just how far Poland’s government will go in its crusade to stop women and girls from exercising their reproductive rights…. The government should use its resources to ensure that everyone in Poland can get the sexual and reproductive health care they need, and help others do so, without risking a prison sentence”.
Justyna Wydrzyńska, a Polish abortion rights activist from @aborcyjnydream is accused of aiding an abortion and faces 3 years in prison.— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) October 13, 2022
Ahead of the trial, we call on authorities to drop charges against her & stop persecuting women's rights activists. #IamJustyna #JakJustyna pic.twitter.com/uwgeRgjITW
Prosecutors file indictment against women’s rights activists
On 20th October 2022, prosecutors in Warsaw filed an indictment against three women’s rights activists: Marta Lempart, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin from the StrajkKobiet (Polish Women’s Strike). They are accused of endangering public health and “causing an epidemiological threat” for protests which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic against the near-total abortion ban in October 2020. They may face up to eight years in prison. In addition, Lempart also faces charges for insulting police officers and publicly praising crimes during an interview where she discussed vandalism of churches and disruption of masses by protesters. Lempart, who faces over 100 charges, said:
“We are fighting a politically compromised justice system made up partially of illegally appointed judges and prosecutors with an agenda. I am just one of many; we are talking about 6,000 people being harassed for protesting, that will be taken down one by one if the erosion of judicial independence is not immediately stopped.”
In a statement, International Planned Parenthood Foundation Europe said:
“We are appalled by the renewed and escalating judicial persecution of women’s human rights defenders by Polish authorities who are using the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic to disguise politicized attacks. Is this the Europe we want to live in? Where women are forced through pregnancy and where rights defenders are dragged to court by fundementalists?” Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network.
Lex Czarnek 2.0 sparks protest
As reported previously on the Monitor, Polish education minister Przemysław Czarnek proposed amendments to the law on education (dubbed Lex Czarnek), which would limit CSOs’ access to schools by giving power to regional educational welfare officers (superintendents) – appointees of the current government – to approve the content of extracurricular workshops in schools. The bill would limit educational freedom and give the government the power to limit or prevent extracurricular activities and educational workshops from taking place in schools on themes such as anti-discrimination, gender equality, LGBTQI+ rights and comprehensive sexuality education. However, in March 2022, President Duda vetoed the bill.
On 25th October 2022, protests were staged inside and outside the parliament after a second version of the bill was narrowly approved by the education committee by 16 to15 votes. Four opposition members who were absent during the committee meeting could have swung the vote outcome.
Dzieci i ryby mają głos. Jesteśmy pod Sejmem w obronie wolnej szkoły. Dziś projekt #lexCzarnek— Amnesty Polska (@amnestyPL) October 25, 2022
znów jest procedowany. Podpisz Petycję! https://t.co/1v3XZQrsv2
@wolnaszkola_org #wolnaszkoła pic.twitter.com/PXS1VVOnkk
Prosecutors appeal against acquittal of drag queen
On 2nd August 2022, Notes from Poland reported that prosecutors had appealed against the acquittal of a drag queen who performed holding a doll with an image of Marek Jędraszewski, the archbishop of Kraków, as well as scissors and fake blood. Prosecutors charged the drag queen, Marek M., with inciting murder. According to prosecutors, during the performance, Marek M. simulated the murder of the archbishop. However, Marek M. stated that the fake blood was used to illustrate how Jędraszewski’s anti-LGBT comments hurt their hearts.
In June 2022, the district court in Poznań found Marek M not guilty. However, the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw requested that the verdict be overturned and the trial be repeated. Their decision to appeal followed a comment made by Zbigniew Ziobro, the public prosecutor general and justice minister, who said that the verdict “goes beyond all [acceptable] standards and does harm to the image of the Polish judiciary”.
Jędraszewski has repeatedly attacked “LGBT ideology”, likening it to Nazism as well as communism. According to Rzeczpospolita, nearly two dozen people filed notices that the archbishop’s anti-LGBT remarks constituted hate speech, but prosecutors and courts refused to open proceedings, arguing that Jędraszewski’s words did not refer to specific individuals and that people with a certain sexual orientation are not protected as a group under Polish hate crime law.
“Insulting or ridiculing church” to become imprisonable crime
In early October 2022, United Poland, one of the junior coalition members in Poland’s government, submitted a legislative proposal to the Parliament with the backing of almost 400,000 citizens according to which anyone who “publicly insults or ridicules the church” could be sent to prison for up to two years. Offending “the religious feelings of other people by publicly insulting an object of religious worship or a place intended for the public performance of religious rites” is already a crime in Poland, punishable by two years in jail. According to Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of United Poland, who is also the public prosecutor general and justice minister,
“In order to fully implement freedom of religion…it is necessary to amend the criminal code, which today insufficiently guarantees the protection of believers.”
Kaczyński suing a journalist
6th September 2022saw the opening day of the trial in which Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of PiS, sued Jan Piński, a journalist who claimed that Kaczyński is gay and had a relationship with a male military intelligence officer, which left him open to blackmail.
Kaczyński who represents himself as fiercely anti-gay, is demanding a retraction, apology and a 10,000 (€2,100) zloty charitable donation. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Piński defended himself, stating that he had seen a photo of the military officer “Piotr Polaszczyk and Jarosław Kaczyński in a clearly intimate situation” in the shower.
Rusza proces wytoczony Pińskiemu przez Kaczyńskiego. Prezes PiS pozwał za sugestię, że jest gejemhttps://t.co/5q7uCNKv7n— Wirtualnemedia.pl (@wirtualnemedia) September 6, 2022
Head of public broadcaster TVP replaced
In early September 2022, the head of Poland’s public broadcaster TVP, Jacek Kurski was dismissed. The National Media Council (RMN), the PiS-captured state body that oversees public media, appointed Mateusz Matyszkowicz, who had previously sat on TVP’s board, to replace him. Opposition members of RMN criticised the process, as there was no appropriate call for applications or candidate evaluations.
Polska Press takeover
On 3rd August 2022, Polish Ombudsman Marcin Wiącek’s office issued an official statement according to which he will not appeal against the court decision that dismissed the appeal of his predecessor Adam Bodnar against the acquisition of regional newspaper publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil company PKN Orlen. The ombudsman allegedly accepted the court’s decision on the basis of a legal loophole that he believes needs to be addressed. Press freedom groups unsuccessfully urged the ombudsman to reconsider the decision not to file a secondary appeal. In their appeal they stated:
“ We are concerned that the acquisition of Polska Press by a state-controlled company headed by figures close to PiS leadership is a central element of PiS’s stated plans for “repolonization” of the media landscape. Though couched in language of pluralism and national sovereignty, these efforts have in reality been aimed at engineering the takeover of independent press by entities linked to the ruling party and strengthening the market influence of pro-government media.”
Civic Platform sues for Tusk Hitler cover
In July 2022, Poland’s biggest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), announced that it would sue the pro-government newspaper Gazeta Polska for a cover likening Donald Tusk, the leader of PO, to Hitler. The cover depicts Tusk with an emphasised shadow under his nose, raised fist, and the words “Gott mit uns” (God with us). “Gott mit uns” was a motto used by the German military. Tusk is regularly depicted as a representative of German interests and a traitor to Poland by media outlets supportive of the government and government politicians. Gazeta Polska is heavily reliant on the government’s benevolence. In 2021, it received 9.66 million zloty (€2 million) from state firms, a sum that amounts to almost a third of its income.
Related to this,in August 2022, Krystina Pawłowicz, a PiS appointment to Poland’s constitutional court, apologised to Donald Tusk for a tweet in which she seems to have likened him to Hitler. In the same statement, however, she called on Tusk “not to give reasons for such jokes”. Although constitutional judges are supposed to be apolitical, Pawłowicz seems to still push the PiS agenda, the party of which she was an MP between 2011 and 2019. She seems to be vocal against LGBT people, the EU, Germany, social-democrats and liberals, and the NGO sector.
Education minister retracts statement linking “LGBT ideology” to Nazism
On 21st July 2022, Poland’s education minister and professor of law at the Catholic University of Lublin, Przemysław Czarnek, issued a statement retracting his remarks on how “LGBT ideology” comes from the same root as Nazism and how queer people are not equal to “normal people”. The statement includes an apology to Jakub Urbanik, a scholar at the University of Warsaw who sued Czarnek for his statements aired on TV and radio in 2020. “Nobody can use this kind of language – especially an academic teacher, because his fundamental duty is to protect his students,” said Urbanik at the time.