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Zielona Góra, western Poland. The story of what happened in a closed meeting at the local prosecutor’s office has been on people’s lips for a while now. The news spread among prosecutors and regular staff members alike. Witnesses reached out to us to describe what they saw. All of them ask to remain anonymous, out of fear they’ll become targets of harassment. They call the event a symbol of how low the prosecution had fallen.

- It's a self-absorbed institution, caught up in partisan squabbles. It focuses on topics meant to distract us from the real issues; purely made up, and at times even grotesque - says one of our sources. 

How an unsuspecting cat became a „kompromat"

Early June. At the prosecutor's office, one of the most intense and hectic periods. It is a time of analyzing and comparing results. Statistics are all that matters. Different units do what they can to show that they meet the quotas (i.e. process at least as many cases as they received) and that the number of long-lasting investigations is decreasing. It is a time of administrative meetings.

The story takes place in one of such meetings held in Zielona Góra. According to our sources, the closed session is attended by the district’s top management: the head of the Zielona Góra district prosecutor's office Jarosław Kijowski and his deputy Marcin Chrzanowski. Both men have been appointed after the ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015. The meeting is attended by the local prosecutorial elite: there are heads of different departments and even key representatives of the regional prosecutor's offices. The results of different units are presented, and complicated cases are discussed.

But the most memorable takeaway from the June meeting, according to the witnesses, was a surprising multimedia presentation prepared by the IT staff. The presented material was supposed to concern the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Nowa Sól. The attendees expected to see some kind of scandalous recordings, possibly some "kompromats", i.e. damaging information on one of the prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the footage presented to the participants of the meeting showed a cat named Lucjan, well-known to the citizens of Nowa Sól, walking through the hallways of the prosecutor's office. A grey tabby cat with white paws, a spot on his chest, a white tail tip. A fluffy, well-built cat.

Lucjan is one of many animals fed as part of the community's stray cat care program. In Nowa Sól, the initiative is carried out in an exemplary fashion. The town has built shelters for cats and spends money on food, sterilization, and emergency veterinary care.

The local public news channel in Gorzów aired a story about cat shelters, making Lucjan the star of the report. Local residents, with the help of city authorities, are looking after the cats. But the stray animals in Nowa Sól are also cared for by local prosecutors and court employees. They feed them and give them a temporary home when they are sick and in need of attention. It happens that an animal will enter the prosecutor's office building. So far, no one has complained about it.

This time, however, after the presentation, the head of the unit where Lucjan was seen strolling, found himself caught in a crossfire of questions. People started to ask what the cat was doing in the building. It was suggested that the cat should be "cleaned up".

- It was absurd. Cats were made one of the topics of the administrative meeting. The substantive issues, proceedings, results were pushed into the background. We have never witnessed something this grotesque before. Just think about it: how does it make the prosecution look like? Instead of fighting crime, they want to fight stray cats - one of our sources tells us.

- Nobody expects to see something like this at a closed administrative session. The attendees were puzzled. No one was laughing, but there were sarcastic comments passed around in units all over the region. The prosecutors and staff members joked that it was usually a struggle to even get the IT to help them with anything, but in this case, you can see that the ones responsible for the presentation went to great lengths and devoted great resources just to make someone search the CCTV footage and find a cat - adds another of our anonymous sources.

Another witness points to a more serious issue: the problem with surveillance. He suspects that the footage from the prosecutor's office was thoroughly inspected for any compromising material. - Someone must have gone to a lot of trouble to find such a "kompromat" - our source points out, suggesting that in fact, the reason behind the entire case could be an effort to harass one of the prosecutors from Nowa Sól.

A witch hunt against government-critical prosecutors

The believed target is prosecutor Damian Gałek. The experienced investigator is a member of the Lex Super Omnia association, which speaks out against the politicization of Poland’s criminal justice system, and is a thorn in the side of the current district management. It is also no secret that Mr Gałek is one of Lucjan’s main caretakers.

He is also the subject of several ongoing disciplinary proceedings. Recently, he was subjected to further harassment - the district prosecutor from Zielona Góra ordered his superior from Nowa Sól to supervise all of Mr Gałek's cases for a year. For the government-critical investigator, it means practical incapacitation and the need to obtain written approval of his superior for every decision. It is in effect a demotion.

The management of the unit in Nowa Sól stood up to the head of the district prosecutor's office - they pointed out that Mr Gałek has an impeccable professional reputation, that the scope of supervision is unfeasible, and may be contrary to the statutorily guaranteed principle of prosecutorial independence.

But the head of the district office did not give up on his efforts and delegated Mr Gałek for two months to another unit - the district prosecutor's office in Zielona Góra. The supervision order was implemented there. According to the Lex Super Omnia association, the actions against Mr Galek "raise reasonable doubts as to their compliance with applicable laws".

There is also a lot of talk about how Mr Gałek's wife was being pressured in the Zielona Góra district. Until recently, she worked as a clerk at the district prosecutor's office, responsible for translations. But after 20 years of work she was suddenly assigned tasks below her qualifications, and when she pointed it out, she was punished. Even though she is under the protection of a labor union, she was dismissed from her job. She now has four ongoing cases before the labor court, where she is trying to assert her rights.

The cat was barred from entering the building

And what happened to Lucjan, the cat, after the administrative meeting? For the time being, it was decided that he should not enter the building of the prosecutor’s office. But employees and prosecutors still take care of the stray cats.

- People are now afraid of being surveilled. They don’t want to escalate the conflict. Besides, they also worry that the current leadership of the district office – Mr Kijowski and Mr Chrzanowski - will try to go after the innocent animals to vent their frustration- we hear from one of the employees.

- People who take care of stray cats, whether on their own initiative or as part of a municipal program, are fulfilling their obligations under the Animal Protection Act. In the case of public institutions, such as the prosecutor's office, we can talk about a special obligation to comply with animal protection laws- Karolina Kuszlewicz, an advocate specializing in animal rights, tells us. - Stray cats cannot be chased away, transported, or resettled on the principle of getting rid of the problem. Therefore, they should be allowed to exist in safety, they shouldn’t be chased away, cellar windows should not be closed to them. Moreover, it is not possible to forbid helping such cats, because they do not belong to the people who take care of them, and therefore these people cannot be held responsible for their presence in a certain place. Such cats cannot end up in shelters either.

-  I think it is outrageous that the prosecution is using hierarchical structures and seniority status not only to harass inconvenient staff members who take care of animals, but also to harass the animals themselves. Stray cats have a very difficult situation in Poland anyway. This story scares me. Instead of evaluating the merits of an employees' work, the management goes after the humaneness, their compassion towards animals. It is striking how far they will go to control their subordinates - Ms Kuszlewicz concludes.

***

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