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In Poland, peaceful protest 'under serious threat'

Lewis Sanders IV
June 25, 2018

Amnesty International has called on Warsaw to "protect the right" to freedom of assembly. Judges have warned of mounting pressure to back authorities, saying "it is very difficult to work in these conditions."

A blindfolded protester rallies in Krakow
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/SOPA/O. Marques

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Monday published a report examining how Polish protesters are defying increased restrictions on public assembly and expanded powers for law enforcement agencies.

"Peaceful protest is a right, but in Poland it is under serious threat," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's Europe director.

"The power of the street is a crucial check on the power of the state. The Polish government must protect the right of all those determined to come out to defend their freedom.

'Increasingly restrictive laws'

Since 2015, the government led by the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has advanced restrictive measures targeting civil society as well as the judiciary and media.

However, tens of thousands of Polish nationals have taken to the streets on multiple occasions, whether to protest against plans to outlaw abortions or laws aimed at increasing political control over the judiciary.

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"People in Poland are courageously taking a stand against the politics of demonization as they continue to take to the street in defiance of increasingly restrictive laws and the repressive policing measures meant to silence them," said van Gulik.

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'Cannot fight the whole system'

Poland's parliament in December 2016 adopted an amendment to the country's Law on Assemblies that gave priority to so-called "cyclical demonstrations" – or those organized by the same entity to occur multiple times in a year at the same location.

The amended law has been used by authorities to ban certain protests and rallies. Meanwhile, judges have warned of growing pressure to rule in favor of authorities when it comes to public assembly cases.

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Polish judge Dominik Czeszkiewicz, who championed the citizens' right to protest peacefully in a court ruling, has been subject to disciplinary proceedings.

"It is very difficult to work in these conditions," Czeszkiewicz told Amnesty. "I cannot fight the whole system. I don't know when, where and from whom I will get a punch."

Thousands protest in Poland

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