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The Polish Supreme Court accepted a cassation appeal submitted by the Human Rights Commissioner in the case of two men fined for, among others, taking part in a gathering in Tarnowskie Góry (southern Poland). Both men were acquitted. Their case concerns the events of October 2020 and the protests following the Constitutional Tribunal's verdict tightening abortion laws.
"The decision is setting a legal precedent with regards to the ban on assembly. Following appeals by the Commissioner for Human Rights, for several months now, the Supreme Court has been repealing sentences for not wearing face masks or violating the ban on free movement"- reads a note on the Human Rights Commissioner’s website.
"The Act on Prevention and Control of Infections and Infectious Diseases could not have been used as the legal basis for the ban on public gatherings to which the government referred in issuing subsequent regulations. The problem is that this law provides no basis for such restrictions on freedom. In the case of assemblies, it only allows for the prohibition of 'spectacles and other public gatherings’. Thus, it does not apply to the freedom of spontaneous assemblies protected by the Constitution" – the Commissioner states.
Fined for using words „commonly regarded as indecent"
The two acquitted men participated in a demonstration in front of an MP’s office on October 24, 2020. The court fined PLN 500 each for participating in the assembly, explaining its decision with the fact that the men were not wearing face masks and shouted allegedly vulgar slogans. There was no haring and the court issued a writ of payment.
According to the Commissioner, "in the cassation appeal, the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated that the law allows imposing the obligation to wear masks only on sick people and people suspected of being infected, and not on everyone (this provision was changed after several interventions by the Commissioner in late 2020. - since then, the order was already legal). As for what the men were supposedly shouting, the Commissioner notes that issuing a writ of payment, in this case, was unlawful, because such a proceeding is only admissible in cases that do not raise any doubts. The only evidence in this case is a police report. This is not enough".
He further adds that "the description of the acts attributed to the defendants does not specify what words 'commonly regarded as indecent' they supposedly used. Given the context of the case, the court should consider whether the words they used, if they were indeed shouted, did not constitute an act of criticism of the authorities, which is permissible under the constitutionally-guaranteed principle of freedom of speech".
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