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Polish protesters decry new surveillance law

January 23, 2016

Anti-government protesters have rallied in dozens of Polish cities against additional government surveillance. Poland is facing an EU probe over controversial measures aimed at tightening the government's grip on power.

Proteste gegen die Regierung in Polen
Image: Reuters/K. Atys

Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets of Warsaw and 35 other cities on Saturday to protest the changes to the law, pushed by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"We are not revolutionaries," said Mateusz Kijowski, founder of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), which organized the demonstrations.

"Revolutionaries are those who destroy order, who want to impose their own rule. We want to preserve our democracy and our freedom," he added, addressing the crowd in the Polish capital.

The conservative government aims to expand its access to digital data and loosen the regulations on the use of surveillance.

"Our privacy, intimacy is under threat. We can be followed, watched over both in our homes and online," Kijowski said.

PiS officials have been facing sharp criticism since taking power in October last year, with many government critics accusing the party of attempting to place the courts and the media under its control.

Proteste gegen die Regierung in Polen
Protesters criticize Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro over the new surveillance lawImage: Reuters/J. Rusek

Additionally, some observers claim that the PiS and their leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski seek to emulate the "illiberal democracy" of Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban.

Voices from Orban's Hungary

Last week, the European Union launched an unprecedented probe into the recent steps taken by the government, which could ultimately lead to Warsaw losing its voting rights in the organization. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo responded by saying the EU move was "unjust."

Saturday's rally in Warsaw was attended by Hungarian opposition activists, including Balazs Gulyas, who had organized a large anti-Orban protest in 2014.

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski wants to follow Viktor Orban," Gulyas said, addressing the protesters in English.

"So we Hungarians should warn you: whatever Kaczynski promises, this road is going towards autocracy, economic backwardness, a shrinking middle class and increasing poverty," he said.

Opposition representatives and liberal activists have organized several protests in the months following the PiS takeover. The government responded by holding rallies for its own supporters.

dj/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)