By launching the "There is no freedom without solidarity" cause Gazeta Wyborcza and Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation aim at creating a movement of people of solidarity in times difficult both for Poland and its citizens, as well as Gazeta Wyborcza and its journalists.
With this third issue of our international newsletter we are asking you again to join our cause and let us inform you, in a weekly manner, about key news from Poland. This week we are focusing on judiciary system in Poland, with recent destruction of its independence and troll farms within the Ministry of Justice and hate campaigns triggered by its workers and associated.
There is no freedom without solidarity and so it is our obligation to monitor and report government’s attacks on different social groups which are scapegoated for political gain and actions that are eroding our democracy.
Please, share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues interested in Polish affairs. Let both - the message "There is no freedom without solidarity" and the truth about the situation of free Poles in their own country - be heard as widely as possible.
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Gazeta Wyborcza Team
Disturbing news from Poland
Last week offered a glimpse at the inner workings of the Polish state under the rule of Law and Justice party (PiS). It is an appalling view, with the authoritarian power resorting to methods usually associated with organized crime.
A series of investigative articles published by Onet.pl and Gazeta Wyborcza revealed that a number of high-ranking Ministry of Justice officials formed a group responsible for online bullying and defamation of judges critical of government’s efforts to dismantle judicial independence. The group was coordinated by the deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak, widely considered to be the right-hand man of Zbigniew Ziobro, the Minister of Justice and one of the central figures within the ruling camp.
Over the last few years, the governing party spared no efforts in destroying the judicial independence of judges and public prosecutors. The reforms it introduced allowed Zbigniew Ziobro to nominate the presidents of all tribunals, as well as implemented a new system of disciplining the judges, according to which a special group appointed by the Minister of Justice could decide on revoking the right to practice law of any judge and lawyer.
Piebiak was forced to resign, but the journalistic investigation made it clear that the scandal goes beyond one bad apple. Members of the group coordinating the hate campaign included several high profile judges who owed their rapid career advancement to their loyal support of PiS’ reforms. The coordinated effort also involved a number of TV anchors working for TVP, the state broadcaster and the de facto propaganda engine of the government, as well as some journalists working for pro-government media which are fully financially dependent on PiS thanks to funds channelled to them through state-owned companies.
Szefostwo resortu sprawiedliwości: były wiceminister Łukasz Piebiak (pierwszy z lewej) i minister Zbigniew Ziobro Stefan Maszewski/REPORTER / REPORTER
PiS continuously refuses to comply with a binding court ruling
Elżbieta Witek, the newly appointed speaker of the Polish Sejm, announced that she would not publish the lists of judges who vouched for the newly elected members of the National Council of the Judiciary (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa, KRS). After coming to power, PiS used the standard legislative procedure to change the way KRS members are appointed, a move which was in blatant disregard of the Polish constitution. In addition, it also discontinued the constitutionally-guaranteed term of the sitting KRS members.
What is more, for almost two years the government has refused time and again to publish the support lists of each candidate - according to the law the requirement was to have at least 25 other judges vouching for any potential appointee to KRS.
Legal NGOs and judges’ associations have been battling the government’s refusal to make the lists public in courts. They were convinced that the lists of support must have been filled with people employed by or associated with the Ministry of Justice - the majority of judges were vehemently against the new appointment procedure. The new KRS consists fully of judges supported by PiS.
The Supreme Administrative Court of Poland has recently issued a binding ruling calling for the lists to be published. The governing party refuses, citing an opinion by the head of the Personal Data Protection Authority, a longtime PiS party member, who claims that it would constitute a violation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. Despite the fact that he has no authority to undermine the binding verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland, new speaker of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek announced that his decision ties her hands and blocks her from publishing the lists.
This is nothing but an elaborate excuse by the governing party to blatantly ignore a binding ruling that went against its wishes. Not for the first time, as in 2015 it refused to publish a number of decisions by the then-independent Constitutional Tribunal, despite the fact that the Polish constitution explicitly states that its rulings are final. Ignoring the rulings of the Supreme Administrative Court sets another dangerous precedent - the court is responsible for the most important administrative disputes, including those concerning large-scale foreign investors.
Sędzia Piotr Gąciarek Fot. Adam Stępień / Agencja Gazeta
Mafia-like state - Op-ed by Roman Imielski
In authoritarian “democracies”, those in power are abundantly self confident and feel no restraints in weaponizing state institutions against their political opponents. In Poland, such a scenario can no longer be confined to the category of political fiction. Thanks to independent media outlets - Onet.pl and Gazeta Wyborcza - we discovered that since 2016, an informal group at the very centre of the Ministry of Justice was in charge of running a defamation campaign against judges who protested against the government’s assault on judicial independence. Law and Justice party has been systematically dismantling the independence of the judiciary over the last four years since it correctly identified it as the last bastion defending the rule of law and liberal democratic values enshrined in Polish constitution.
The group was headed by deputy Minister of Justice, Łukasz Piebiak. He worked hand in hand with Jakub Iwaniec, another important official at the Ministry, as well as with several judges who enjoyed rapid career advancement thanks to their loyal service to the governing party. Among them were a regional court president, a judge at the Supreme Court, and a high-level member of the National Council of the Judiciary.
The attacks against independent judges involved TVP - the public broadcaster which since 2016 is mostly known as an unprincipled and blunt propaganda tool for the government. Another part of the puzzle were the pro-government media which, while supposedly independent, owe their continued existence to the large influx of funds from the state-owned companies funneled to them under the guise of advertisement spending.
The group coordinated from within the Ministry of Justice had no qualms to resort to personal, sensitive information in its fight against their political enemies. The slander aimed at Krystian Markiewicz, the head of Iustitia, an association of independent judges critical of the judicial reforms, concerned his preschooler child.
Were it not for the independent media, Poles would never find out about this scandal. If PiS wins again during the October 13th parliamentary elections, independent media will become the main target of government’s attack.
This scandal speaks volumes about how Law and Justice thinks about governance. For Jarosław Kaczyński and his allies the Russian standard of “sovereign democracy”, in which political rivals are destroyed by any means necessary, is inherently appealing. It is shocking to think that such methods are used by a member state of the European Union, and by a government which keeps underlining its devotion to democratic standards, always happy to dispense lessons to other countries about their shortcomings.
Protest przed kancelarią premiera, podczas którego żądano dymisji ministra Ziobry DAWID ŻUCHOWICZ
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH POLAND?
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Let us know what you think:
If you want to offer us your advice or opinion, contact Joanna Krawczyk at email@example.com
If you need more information for editorial purposes, contact Roman Imielski firstname.lastname@example.org
We need to show solidarity, or else no one will stand in protest when the authoritarian power comes after you, after me, after us. We need to stand with those who are beaten, not those who beat them.
Authoritarian states flourish not when bad people do bad things but when good people allow them.
Today we are asking fellow Poles and our friends abroad to join the movement of people of solidarity. Your position gives you the right to speak out loud when others are being hurt. We do not have an army to defend ourselves, but we have words that can help those who are being harassed. Your voice is valuable because it can open the eyes of those who still prefer to turn their heads and remain silent. Now is the time to call things by their names. Let us speak the truth about the situation of free Poles in their own country. Let us remember that there is no freedom without solidarity.
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