New protest law continues the erosion of civic space in Poland

New protest law continues the erosion of civic space in Poland
Civil society organisations called a nationwide citizens strike on 13th December

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th December, Poland's parliament passed a new law aimed at more strictly regulating the right to freedom of assembly. Although modified to remove some earlier flaws, the bill remains problematic and has been heavily criticised because it restricts the right to organise gatherings by changing the decision-making authority on assemblies and prioritising gatherings that are in the 'national interest' over other assemblies. The law also provides for groups to effectively 'book' locations for periodic protests, although the finally adopted version removed preferential treatment for state and religious bodies. Counter demonstrations to those 'periodic' protests will not be allowed within 100 metres of those sites. Pro-democracy groups in Poland and elsewhere claimed this is an unacceptable infringement on the fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Respect for the right to peaceful assembly has been vital for civil society over the past 12 months, as citizens have attempted to publicly voice their opposition to regressive actions by the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) government. Large-scale protests - including those organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) - have become a frequent occurrence on the streets of Warsaw and other major cities. On the day before the vote, civil society organised nationwide anti-government protests in the form of a Citizens' Strike. A range of NGOs, civil rights activists and opposition parties rallied against the government's recent moves to curb freedoms, including the proposed new protest regulations, which they labelled as anti-democratic. International organisations including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and EU institutions voiced similar concerns. In an interview with the New York Times, former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa summed up the fears, saying:

'They are destroying everything I fought for. Free and democratic Poland is in danger.'