Government removes criminal sanctions from "Holocaust Law"

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.