"Sound the alarm; take an interest in Poland" says NGO after raid

Association

The Polish authorities have escalated their attacks on independent civil society groups, raiding the offices of two organisations following a protest against the country's restrictive abortion laws. In addition and just days later, the Polish president signed a new law which increases government control over funding to civil society in Poland. 

On 4th October 2017, police raided the offices of women's empowerment organisations - the Women's Rights Centre and Baba - both of which had participated in anti-government protests the previous day. 

Baba is a women's rights and support organisation which has been active in Poland for the past 18 years. It provides services and support to victims of violence and crime, as well as educational services and campaigning on a range of issues. CIVICUS researchers corresponded recently with a representative of Baba to find out more about the organisation and how it was impacted by the police raids on 4th October. The following is the English translation of that interview:

Could you please tell us what happened at your organisation’s office on 4th October?

The police, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, searched our premises, confiscating 25 files of documents and our organisation’s main computer. They treated us as suspects, although we are witnesses in the case of alleged misconduct by former staff in the Ministry of Justice from the years 2012 to 2015, when we received grants from the Ministry. We were not told what wrongdoing had allegedly occurred, who the suspects may be, but still our association’s president was questioned by the authorities, having no knowledge of the suspected irregularities at the Ministry. The police spent nine hours at our office.

In your opinion, what was the motive behind the police search of your office?

We are not certain, but searches of women’s organisations that had only the previous day protested against the government’s move to take away Polish women’s reproductive rights could raise concerns that such actions are meant to intimidate and harass, though the prosecutor claims the date of the searches was just coincidental.

What impact will the raid and confiscation of property have on your work?

Such actions could impact beneficiaries’ trust in us. They will think that if we are interrogated and our office searched, we may not be honest and reliable. Since the Law and Justice party came to power, public opinion of NGOs is that they are dishonest, untrustworthy, and that they embezzle grant funds and obtain funds from hostile forces in the world, and some are supposedly even spies. Now the public will really believe that such allegations are true. In addition, having materials confiscated has caused concern that confidential information may be compromised.

What can the international community do to protect women’s rights groups in Poland?

Sound the alarm; take an interest in Poland and the situation for NGOs here. The international community should focus on pushing the Polish government to maintain democratic standards. Polish women’s organisations are also in need of financial support as they no long receive public funds for activities related to women’s rights and combating violence against women.

Exactly ten days after the raids, President Andrzej Duda signed a bill that extends government control over funding to civil society organisations in Poland. The law establishes the National Freedom Institute, a body which is located in the office of the prime minister, which will control funding from the Polish government and the EU to civil society groups. Critics have branded the system "Orwellian" and fear that the body will abuse its powers by defunding those groups with missions and opinions contrary to those of the ruling party. Local group the Helsinki Committee in Poland said:

"In our opinion, the adoption of the Act on the National Freedom Institute – Centre for the Development of Civil Society will result in a dramatic restriction of civic freedoms, in spite of the Act’s title".