#Poland: SAR is concerned about pending criminal and civil lawsuits against legal scholar Wojciech Sadurski that appear to be in retaliation for comments he made about Poland’s ruling party and a public broadcaster. Read SAR’s report: http://ow.ly/gHYG50v5kfI
#Poland: SAR is concerned about pending criminal and civil lawsuits against legal scholar Wojciech Sadurski that appear to be in retaliation for comments he made about Poland's ruling party and a public broadcaster. Read SAR's report: https://t.co/y4hCMPym7k
For many years now, I’ve asked the students in my course on the law of freedom of speech to read Floyd Abrams – a doyen of the First Amendment law in the United States, who was recently described by David McCraw as “the lawyer who has made the single greatest contribution to press freedom in our lifetimes.” Now I see that Abrams is heading the list of some 700 scholars from all over the world denouncing a flagrant violation of that same freedom by an ostensibly democratic government. The case in question is mine.
Over the past six months, the Polish government’s propaganda machine has repeatedly denounced me as an enemy and traitor. But it hasn’t left it at that. Various authorities and institutions have also sued and prosecuted me. Some of the cases have since been dropped, though mostly on formal grounds. But three remain pending against me and will go to court.
The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) is suing me for civil defamation. State-run TV is also suing me for civil defamation as well as indicting me for criminal defamation. If I lose these cases, I could face huge civil and criminal fines and hefty legal costs. Court decisions could also potentially force me to take out expensive advertisements containing apologies. All of this vastly exceeds my means. I could also be compelled by the court to abstain from commenting publicly and critically about the ruling party. And a guilty verdict in the TVP criminal case theoretically carries a sentence of up to one year in jail, though that is unlikely in practice.
I have, in short, become the target of autocrats who have weaponized the law against their opponents.
Two months ago Armin von Bogdandy and Luke Dimitrios Spieker highlighted the plight of our colleague Wojciech Sadurski, a distinguished professor of law at the Universities of Sydney and Warsaw, and formerly at the European University Institute in Florence. Professor Sadurski finds himself facing an array of charges and lawsuits in Poland for his outspoken criticism of the governing party, PiS. As von Bogdandy and Spieker pointed out, such attempts to silence critics are not solely a matter of Polish law but also of European Union law and European human rights law, particularly in the context of the ongoing Article 7 TEU procedure against Poland. But matters have continued to worsen since that time for Sadurski, who has been targeted by no less than three sets of legal proceedings aimed at silencing him and punishing him for speaking out. We write to draw attention to the legal harassment of Professor Sadurski by the Polish government and its allies, to the right of academics across the European Union to freely speak out and to criticize political leaders, and to publicly express our support for Wojciech Sadurksi.
The background is this: On 10 November 2018 Wojciech Sadurski called upon Polish citizens to boycott a so-called “Independence March” to be held in Warsaw. He tweeted: “If anyone still had any doubts, after the maneuver of the past two days this much should be clear: no honest person should go in a parade of defenders of the White race, who have hidden for a moment their “falangas” [a neo-Nazi symbol] and swastikas, in collusion with an organized criminal group PiS”. On 13 January 2019, shortly after the murder of Gdańsk Mayor Mr Paweł Adamowicz, Sadurski tweeted that a politician was killed after he had been hounded by government media, and stated that no democrat and opposition politician should enter the premises of TVP, a public television station, which he described as a Goebbelsian media company.
These two tweets led to three currently pending cases.
Tajiks ‘banned’ at home form opposition alliance in Poland, where Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment is rising.
To human rights campaigners, Alim Sherzamonov is a civil society activist.
But in his native Tajikistan, he is considered an “extremist”.
Sherzamonov is from Khorog in eastern Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, which borders Afghanistan, and is a local opposition leader.
Tensions between the Tajik government in Dushanbe and the people of Gorno-Badakhshan run high. Demonstrations six years ago turned deadly as the army and local armed forces clashed.
Like other Tajik opposition dissidents, Sherzamonov fled Tajikistan for Poland.
“We hope that Polish authorities will help us endorse our plight,” said Sherzamonov, who reached the Eastern European country last year.
In early September, he was appointed as a deputy leader of the National Alliance of Tajikistan – an opposition coalition of four Tajik dissident parties and organisations: the Forum of Tajik Freethinkers, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the Association of Central Asian Migrants, and the People’s Movement “Reforms and Development in Tajikistan”.
The Alliance represents a broad section of Tajik society, including secular and traditional figures, and is based in Poland.
Jamshed Yorov, a lawyer from Dushanbe, is also among the Tajiks living in Poland. He was detained several times in his homeland on various charges before he escaped to Poland. Meanwhile, his brother Buzurgmehr Yorov, a human rights lawyer, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for defending political dissidents from the banned IRPT.
In Poland, demonstrators are dressing famous statues in a white T-shirt with a single word emblazoned on them: “Constitution.”
It’s a protest that goes to the heart of a deepening constitutional conflict in Poland, where the ruling nationalist right-wing party is accused of tightening an authoritarian grip on the country’s judicial system while also stifling dissenting voices and fomenting far-right nationalism.
The battle over the direction of Poland and its legal system is now at the center of European Union politics too.
“I think this is a fight about the heart and soul of Europe,” said Frans Timmermans, a top EU commissioner, late Tuesday at a news conference in Brussels.
“The fundamental question is [whether] the rule of law [is] a fundamental principle of how this union is organized – yes or no?” he told reporters.
This fight has been in the making since 2015 when the Law and Justice party won Polish elections, and became the first government with a clear parliamentary majority in post-communist Poland.
Since its victory, the party has passed a series of laws and measures that critics say undermine the rule of law and target opposition voices. The government’s supporters say it was necessary to overhaul a flawed justice system ruled by a caste of corrupt judges.
Last December, the European Commission took the unprecedented step to trigger sanctions proceedings against Poland because of these moves. Poland became an EU member in 2004.
After the November 2015 election, the Polish government annulled the appointment of five judges to the constitutional tribunal nominated by the previous legislature. Replacements were then appointed by the new government.
After that, the Polish parliament approved other changes that the EU and the judicial establishment say undermined the independence of the Polish justice system.
The changes have given the government more control of common courts, the constitutional court, the supreme court and the final appeals court for civil and criminal cases.
The most controversial change lowered the retirement age for supreme court judges from 70 to 65. This has had the effect of forcing about 27 the court’s 73 judges into retirement.
The legal profession plays a crucial role in ensuring access to justice for all, transparency and accountability of the state, Rule of law and the respect for human rights.
Yet, instead of being perceived as a vital player to the justice sector, today lawyers are often targeted by the governments in many OSCE countries for seeking truth and justice. As a result, lawyers often face high risks of persecution, harassment as well as severe sanctions for doing their job.
This side-event aims to specifically discuss the situation of lawyers in Belarus, Russia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The discussion will extend to consider the latest developments related to the rights of lawyers and their independence in the respective countries, and what impact this has on the overall rule of law and human rights situation.
This side event will take place on 12 September 2018, from 13.00 -15.00 at Hotel Bristol, Warsaw
Moderator: Jurate Guzeviciute, Programme Lawyer, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
Presentations and Discussions:
Independence of the legal profession and harassment of lawyers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia:
Ignoring objections at home and from the European Union, Poland has decided to go ahead with the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court.
“We’re speeding things up as much as we can,” judge Leszek Mazur told reporters on August 21.
Mazur is the new head of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a body overseeing judicial impartiality whose composition was changed as part of the reforms.
As reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP), the governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party had introduced the forced early retirement of judges over the age of 65 as part of a raft of controversial judicial reforms that have drawn concern from Brussels.
The PiS insists the judicial changes tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by Poland’s communist era.
But the opposition, democracy watchdogs and the European Union have warned they undermine judicial independence, the rule of law and democracy.