Press statement 24 November, IPPF EN and CIVICUS
- Civil society organisations express serious concerns over civic space restrictions in Poland
- Detention and intimidation of protesters by authorities a huge concern
- Protests sparked by decision to impose a near-total ban on abortion
Polish authorities must immediately stop using excessive force and detaining and intimidating protesters, including minors.
Spontaneous protests against the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) have been held throughout the country since 22 October, prompted by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal to impose a near-total ban on abortion.
CIVICUS and IPPF EN, the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s European Network, are concerned about the use of violence by authorities and non-state actors against protesters. Lawyers assisting protesters have documented how authorities have used kettling, pepper spray and physical violence against protesters. These methods all involve close contact and may lead to an increase in the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Just last night, a police car hit a protester and police detained a photojournalist, even after she presented her press card. In another incident, a member of the Internal Security Agency deliberately drove into protesters, injuring two people, with one ending up in hospital with sustained injuries. Anti-terrorist groups are also being deployed to deal with peaceful assemblies, hitting protesters with batons.
We are also concerned about the further potential escalation of violence against protesters by far-right groups in Poland. A recent undercover investigation reveals how members of the National Guard received training on how to shoot to kill. The guard was set up by far-right leaders to defend Catholic institutions and is supported by Jarosław Kaczyński, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the PiS party. Kaczyński, who is responsible for security issues, called for groups to “defend the church at all costs”. Violence by far-right groups against protesters has already been documented during protests.
The systematic persecution of protesters also needs to stop. Protesters in Warsaw are being detained and taken to police stations up to 30 kilometres outside of Warsaw, under the guise of ensuring COVID-19 safe spaces, with limited or no access to legal representation. We condemn the Polish government for using COVID-19 as a pretext to restrict the rights of protesters. At least 67 people have been detained for protesting thus far:
“I have witnessed growing police violence and irrational harassment of protesters. We have to be prepared to drive out of Warsaw to nearby cities where protesters are being taken even if they get arrested in the centre of the city. Citizens of all genders and ages end up at police precincts having to explain and justify why they wish to exercise their constitutional rights. Naturally, complaints will be filed to declare these detainments as illegal, disproportionate and unjustified. Poland is a democratic country, and as human rights defenders we will fight for it to remain so,” said Eliza Rutynowska, lawyer assisting detained protesters.
Authorities are targeting young people who have attended, or freely expressed support, for protests. A 17-year-old was knocked to the ground by police during a protest and detained overnight; a 14-year-old who shared a Facebook post about a planned walk-in protest in his neighbourhood was threatened with criminal prosecution. Another 14-year-old who attended a protest with her grandmother was openly confronted by police and accused of organising demonstrations. Some teachers and professors have threatened students with disciplinary action for showing support for the Women's Strike (StajkKobiet) and for participating in protests:
“The right to protest is a fundamental civic freedom which is currently under threat in Poland. We are concerned that as spontaneous protests continue, the use of excessive force and the persecution of protesters will escalate. This is already being demonstrated by the attacks on young protesters, whose right to free expression is under attack,” said Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher, CIVICUS.
The EU must step up and condemn attacks on Polish protesters. We call on the EU to make use of, and continue to further strengthen, all its legal and political tools, including recommendations under the EU Rule of Law Framework; we also call on the EU to ensure that access to funds is dependent on states respecting human rights.
“Poland is a country that wants to veto the next seven-year EU budget, the bloc's COVID-19 recovery plan, and an EU plan to make transfers of EU funds to member states conditional on states respecting the rule of law. The vast majority of Polish citizens are in favour of the EU clause on conditionality of funding and in favour of protests. The EU must intervene,” Irene Donadio, International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network.
We call on authorities to refrain from the use of excessive force and detention of protesters, who are exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Police officials who have used excessive force towards protesters must be immediately investigated and held accountable.
Notes to Editors:
Civic space in Poland is rated Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor
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