Rafał Gaweł, the co-founder of the TrzyRzecze theatre in Białystok and the Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Activities, who was sentenced by a Polish court to two years in prison for fraud and extortion, has been granted political asylum in Norway.
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Early in 2019, the Court of Appeals in Białystok – having lowered his initial sentence in half- sentenced Mr. Gaweł to two years in prison.

The indictment contained several charges, including fraud of over PLN 300,000 and hiding property from the debt collector. The injured parties were one of the banks and the Batory Foundation. Mr. Gaweł had supposedly used the funds raised by the institutions he established for private purposes.

In her justification of Mr. Gaweł’s sentence, the judge said that "notorious loan and grant extortion has been his way of financing a comfortable life. It is all the more painful, given the fact that it undermines public confidence in other civic initiatives dependent on grants and donations”.

Gaweł: The Prosecutor’s Office is after me. They’re seeking revenge

Mr. Gaweł denied the allegations since the very beginning, claiming that he was convicted in an "unfair trial based on fabricated evidence”. Having his subsidies withdrawn, he fell into debt, and thus was not given a chance to pay it back. Instead, the state’s decision to put him behind bars was supposed to serve as an exemplary deterrent.

Sending offence notifications to the Prosecutor’s Office, members of the organization he co-founded reported several dozens of racist and xenophobic crimes. According to Mr. Gaweł, the organization’s activities have aggravated key decision-makers at the Ministry of Justice. He claimed that the investigation and the trial were meant as revenge for drawing attention to a controversial case in which the prosecutor in Białystok refused to initiate investigative proceedings arguing that a swastika is just a “Hindu symbol of happiness”.

Three days after the verdict was announced, Mr. Gaweł, accompanied by his wife and two-year-old daughter, attempted to cross the border into Norway without a passport – it’s been taken away from him as a result of the investigative proceedings.

Initially, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration rejected his application for political asylum. He appealed the decision. Last week, the Immigration Board that considered his appeal ruled in Gaweł’s favor.

- The presented documentation was so extensive and the appellant's explanation so convincing that the tribunal decided that he was entitled to protection," says Marianne Granlund who examined Mr. Gaweł’s appeal, quoted by the Norwegian newspaper "Verdens Gang".

The decision gives him and his family the right to stay in Norway for one year, although the permit might still be extended. Mr. Gaweł and his family will also have a chance to obtain permanent residence and acquire permission to work.

First such ruling in 30 years

„The decision of the Norwegian state to grant me asylum,” – Mr. Gaweł explained, “had been based on the following three premises”:

- The lack of access to a fair and honest trial, given the politicization of courts and destruction of the separation of powers by the Polish government;

- the tolerance of the Polish state towards the activities of extreme right-wing and fascist militias and organizations that use violence against their political opponents;

- the de facto persecution of myself by members of the Polish government and law enforcement institutions, as reflected in my four complaints accepted by the European Court of Human Rights”.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Gaweł stated that he is the first Polish citizens in 30 years to have been granted political asylum in the Kingdom of Norway.

It seems that by setting a legal precedent, Mr. Gaweł’s example might clear the path for more decisions of this kind. In September, the Netherlands decided to suspend extraditions of suspects and convicts to Poland because of concerns over judicial independence (the opinion of the EU Court of Justice is pending).

After Mr. Gaweł had left the country, Poland has issued an international arrest warrant, asking Norway to arrest and extradite him. The police database still lists him as a wanted fugitive.


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