Three high-profile Polish judges have complained of a “state-led campaign of intimidation and harassment” against them, as Poland’s ruling party tightens its grip on the judiciary.
Since taking power in 2015 the Law and Justice party (PiS) has assumed direct oversight of state prosecutors and the judicial body that appoints, promotes and disciplines judges, as well as the power to dismiss and appoint court presidents, who wield considerable power and influence in the Polish justice system.
A disputed law on the supreme court, forcing the retirement of 40% of its judges, is due to take effect on 3 July.
Judges involved in politically sensitive cases or who have expressed opposition to threats to judicial independence have told the Guardian they are frequently threatened with disciplinary proceedings and even criminal charges, and in many cases are subjected to allegations of corruption and hate campaigns orchestrated by leading PiS politicians.
“I became an enemy of the state,” said Waldemar Żurek, a district court judge in the southern city of Kraków, who served as spokesman for the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), the body that appoints and disciplines Polish judges, until it was taken over by government appointees this year.
As the public face of the KRS’s attempts to argue for judicial independence, Żurek received hundreds of abusive and threatening messages to his work phone after false allegations about his personal life were published in pro-government media outlets. Members of his family were also targeted.
When state prosecutors opened an investigation into why one of the rear tyres on his car had burst in suspicious circumstances at the height of the controversy, they showed no interest in gathering evidence, Żurek said, instead using the investigation to demand he hand over as much personal information as possible, including telephone records going back several years.
“All they were interested in was obtaining information they could use against me – they want me to know that they are watching everything I do,” said Żurek, who believes he is under surveillance by state security services.
It is an experience shared by Wojciech Łączewski, a district court judge in Warsaw. In 2015 he convicted Mariusz Kamiński, a senior PiS politician, of abuse of public office when serving as the head of Poland’s central anti-corruption bureau. He sentenced Kamiński to three years in prison for illegal activities including falsifying documents, illegal surveillance and misleading courts so as to obtain warrants under false pretences.
But after the PiS candidate Andrzej Duda won a presidential election later that year he pardoned Kamiński, who was subsequently appointed as the minister responsible for the Polish security services. The pardon was later ruled unlawful by the supreme court, but Kamiński remains in post.
Since then, Łączewski has seen off one disciplinary charge and is now facing criminal charges relating to Kamiński’s trial, including an allegation – which he strongly denies – that he revealed the identities of undercover agents during the proceedings. Łączewski said his house was broken into and sources within the Polish justice system had confirmed to him that he had been placed under surveillance by the security services that Kamiński now oversees.
“They’re trying to break me and they are winning. I’m tired, I want to live in peace. They have the power of the whole state behind them and I’m alone,” said Łączewski, 41, whose wife, a lawyer who worked in Poland’s constitutional court, was sent to work in a basement archive and then dismissed after the government engineered a takeover of the court at the end of 2016. “Even if I win my proceedings, they still win, because they will claim it as proof that judges are colluding to protect each other.”
Judges contacted by the Guardian said they faced an impossible dilemma: stay silent and lose their independence, or speak out and be accused of “politicisation”, face disciplinary charges and lose their credibility in the eyes of the public.
“We are all hoping to avoid being put in a situation where we have to make a decision on a political case,” said one lower court judge in south-east Poland, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Prosecutors are preparing charges against Igor Tuleya, a Warsaw district court judge who last year ruled that Law and Justice MPs had deliberately obstructed opposition MPs from participating in a vote on the state budget during a parliamentary crisis in December 2016. He found that more than 200 PiS MPs and staff had given false testimony about the existence of a pre-conceived plan to do so.
“They use the same methods for all of us, it’s always the same scenario,” said Tuleya, who has become a hate figure in the pro-government press. He recently received an anonymous email warning him that rumours were being circulated in legal circles that he was a drug addict.
In May it was announced that Żurek and Tuleya would be summoned before a new “ethics panel” of government-appointed judges and MPs. The panel includes Krystyna Pawłowicz, a PiS MP who has already publicly stated that Tuleya should not be a judge, declaring during a session of parliament’s justice committee last year that certain judges should be sent to North Korean-style concentration camps for “re-education”.
“We can definitely say there’s a growing atmosphere of oppression around certain judges and courts,” said Małgorzata Szuleka, of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, noting that state prosecutors who had expressed concerns about political interference had also had disciplinary proceedings initiated against them.
Another judge who has publicly criticised the government’s changes said the pressure being exerted on dissenting judges had become so great that even his home town’s priest had urged his mother, a devout Catholic, to convince her son to stop expressing his opposition to the changes. He claimed to have been approached by an intermediary representing the justice ministry offering him a court presidency in exchange for his acquiescence.
The pressure is likely only to increase with the establishment of a new supreme court “disciplinary chamber” presided over by ruling party appointees. Poland faces censure from the European Union for the passage of the legislation retiring 40% of the supreme court, which the PiS leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, claimed had been infiltrated by “leftism and subordination to foreign forces”.
“We are returning to something like the Communist times, where the ambitious compromise their principles and true independence depends on the character and integrity of individual judges,” said Łączewski. “They can drive me out of the profession, they can even drive me out of the country, but they can never kill the independent judge that lives within me.”
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.