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Monday, December 14. A lorry belonging to the "Pro - Right to Life" Foundation drives around Kraków, disseminating false information about the abortion from the loudspeakers on its roof. Several people intervene and conduct a citizens' arrest. The police arrived on the spot. They wrote up those who stopped the car for traffic violations. The driver was let go and continued to spread the falsehoods around the city.

According to Sebastian Gleń, a spokesman for the Cracow Police Headquarters, stopping the traffic is an offence, while citizens' arrest was unnecessary in this case because the police knows the identity of the driver (how would activists know this was a question that escaped his attention). The spokesperson also claimed that the lorry was allowed to use its sound equipment because the act of driving around with loudspeakers was registered with the city hall as an official legal gathering.

However, the City Hall has consistently refused to register such activities over the last several months. "Cars are not an official gathering," argued the magistrate in October, citing a ruling from a court in Wrocław. The Cracow court upheld this argument. The lack of proper registration means that the lorry cannot count on the assistance of the police, makes it impossible for use the loudspeakers in public space, and opens the way for citizens to report such activity as a disturbance to the public order.

Young climate protesters facing court charges

Right after our conversation with the police spokesperson, we checked the register of public gatherings. The lorry was not among the official entries. In crude terms, the spokesman of the regional police simply lied to us. I am willing to give him a benefit of the doubt and believe that it was not a deliberate misrepresentation. However, it was still a display of glaring incompetence on the part of the police. It looks even more outrageous when taking into account another recent incident.

On December 9th, during the Youth Climate Strike, the Cracow police undertook its most brutal intervention of the last several months. Several dozen protesters were surrounded by a police cordon and locked in the so-called cauldron. A number of people were pulled out of the crowd by force and dragged into police vans. 145 out of 200 people present at the protest were written up. 95% of them are faced with a police motion for punishment in court.

At that time, Sebastian Gleń told us that the intervention and seizure of sound equipment was necessary because the rules of the cultural park (which do not apply on Matejki Square, where the protest took place) were violated. After a few dozen minutes he changed his mind and in a text message he admitted that the police charges were not justified. "Instead, we will cite Article 156 of the Environmental Protection Law, which says that the use of sound equipment is only allowed for legal gatherings. And that one was illegal".

It is human to err, says the police, but the trust has been destroyed

When the police made false accusations against me, I ended up being offered an apology which stated that it was a simple "human error", as my case file was mistakenly placed in a pile of requests for punishment. How many such mistakes and lies will await us in the near future? The driver of the lorry who faced citizens' arrest last Monday should be identified and face the legal consequences for breaking the Environmental Protection Act. The young activists should be rewarded for stopping the lorry and facilitating police work, instead of being punished based on bogus charges.

The policemen's duties, such as writing up citizens and providing accurate information to journalists, is a serious task. A mistake is much more costly than a clerical error made by a shop vendor who gave you 15 cents too many in change. When it comes to enforcing public order, citizens' lives are often at stake. As I stated at the beginning, the police have just charged one of the protesters with violating the physical integrity of an officer. As a result, she is facing up to three years in prison. How are we to believe such charges when there have been so many lies, disinformation and abuse on the side of the police officers in recent weeks?  

The Polish police have worked for years to gain the respect of citizens after the fall of communism in 1989. It will take just as long to rebuild it after the damage done over the last two months.

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