The European Commission has just announced it is referring Poland to the European Court of Justice, Europe’s top court, over long-standing concerns about respect for the rule of law and for the independence of the country’s Supreme Court judges, EU officials said today, 31 March 2021. The European Commission said it will ask the Court to order interim measures until a final judgment is given in the case “to prevent the aggravation of serious and irreparable harm inflicted to judicial independence and the EU legal order”. The case is part of a long-running dispute between Brussels and the governments in Poland and Hungary over democratic standards and the rule of law. The Commission considers Poland in violation of EU law for allowing the country’s Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court to make decisions which have a direct impact on judges and the way they do their jobs, undermining judicial independence.
The head of Poland’s largest union of judges, Krystian Markiewicz said the Commission’s decision is a “victory of the free people” and a “victory of the judges” because it shows that their defence of their independence has Europe’s backing. Amnesty International said the Commission’s decision is a “badly needed step to stop the continued destruction of judicial independence in Poland.”
SOURCE: AP News, by Samuel Petrequin, 31 March 2021.
Escalating threats against women activists need attention too!
Bomb and death threats targeting at least seven groups in Poland for supporting women’s rights and the right to abortion are disturbing reminders of escalating risks to women’s human rights defenders in the country, Human Rights Watch, CIVICUS, and IPPF-EN said today. The authorities should urgently investigate, protect the women targeted and hold those responsible for the threats accountable. Polish officials should also counter abusive misinformation campaigns targeting activists.
“The increasingly hostile and even violent environment for women’s rights and their defenders in Poland should ring alarm bells for Polish authorities and European Union leaders. Women’s rights defenders should be able to express themselves publicly, including when they oppose government policy, without having targets on their backs.
Seven organizations in Poland have been threatened due to their work for or perceived support of women’s rights issues, including Abortion Dream Team, Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa), Feminoteka, FundacjaFOR, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Women’s Rights Centre (Centrum Praw Kobiet), and All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet).
At least six human rights organizations in Warsaw, including the women’s rights groups Feminoteka, Women’s Rights Centre and Women’s Strike, received bomb threats via email on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021. The threats said they were “payback” for supporting the Women’s Strike movement, which has been at the forefront of mass protests following increased restrictions on access to legal abortion. Some organisations received the threat at multiple email addresses.
The Consultative Council (Rada Konsultacyjna), an independent body of groups established to develop legal and policy measures to address Women’s Strike protesters’ demands, received bomb threats via email on 20 March and 23 March. One of the staff, who has received repeated threats. said: “I am only 20 years old and I face death threats practically every day.”
Threats on 20 March also targeted a performance on that day by an artistic collective in central Warsaw at the Szklany Dom (Glass House), near the residence of Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) Jarosław Kaczyński. The performance proceeded following checks of the building by police.
Warsaw City Council member Dorota Łoboda, a member of the opposition Civic Coalition and active supporter of women’s rights and the Women’s Strike movement, also received bomb and death threats. The district prosecutor’s office is reportedly pursuing an investigation into these threats.
Police checked the offices of the groups who received bomb threats and found nothing. Some said that the police minimized the security risks and made no commitment to open and pursue a full investigation.
Activists said their sense of insecurity has been increased by government rhetoric and media campaigns aiming to discredit them and their work, which foster misinformation and hate. One Federa staff member said: “For me this is very serious, because it is not just some freaks who send us a message [saying] ‘you are a murderer.’ It is in the whole context of what is going on in Poland, where what we are doing is really perceived as something evil.”
This is not happening for the first time only recently, however. In one case, last October, an anti-choice group co-opted a magazine cover featuring the founders of the Abortion Dream Team, who work to combat stigma and misinformation about abortion in Poland, labelling them “Abortion Killing Team” and using their image alongside that of a dead infant on billboards and on a truck that drove around Warsaw. In March, the anti-choice group Shield of Life reported Abortion Dream Team to the regional prosecutor’s office in Gdansk for allegedly persuading women online to have abortions and committing “genocide”.
These threats and actions are hate crimes which is against the law, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted.
SOURCE: Poland: Escalating threats to women activists. Human Rights Watch, 31 March 2021.