POST Online Media Lite Edition


After 29 years Poland sinking into dictatorship

Staff Writer |
Poles across the country took the streets on Monday against a new law they see as threatening judicial independence.

Critics say that since taking power in 2015, the Law and Justice party (PiS), led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has chipped away at citizens' fundamental rights to consolidate its power - tearing down democratic institutions that have been in place since the collapse of communism in 1989.

Rights groups claim PiS has moved to silence the media, employed xenophobic rhetoric to isolate political opponents, fast-tracked appointments of party-affiliated judges and dismantled the Constitutional Tribunal.

Now, a new law that will come into effect on Tuesday is targeting the country's highest court - the Supreme Court - by forcing 40 percent of its judges into early retirement.

Many consider it the most flagrant attempt to control the country's judiciary and an unwelcome turning point for the country's waning democracy.

"It's a question of to be or not to be for Poland as a liberal democracy founded on the rule of law," said Piotr Kwiatkowski, one of the organisers for Monday evening's protest in Gizycko, a town 275 kilometres north of Warsaw.

"The Supreme Court is yet another victim of the Law and Justice party in a long string of assaults on democracy that began the very first night when the newly-elected parliament was summoned."

Crowds of up to hundreds of thousands turn up to protest against growing nationalism and restrictions to human rights.

But according to a report by Amnesty International last week, protests are under increased police surveillance and participants now also face the threat of violence.

Among those protesting the Supreme Court reform is Dariusz Mazur, a judge of a regional court in Krakow who presided over the extradition case against Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski in 2015. He is also the spokesman for a local association of about 200 judges.

Mazur told Al Jazeera that Polish judges have continually warned of the PiS politicising the judiciary after a state-led "fair courts" drive, which began last year.

Featuring billboard adverts across the country targeting local judges, the campaign draws claims of state-sponsored harassment and intimidation.

In addition to giving President Duda the power to fill the soon-to-be vacant chairs in the Supreme Court, the forthcoming law would create an "extraordinary appeal" chamber within the court that could reopen cases dating back 20 years at the request of a government-appointed prosecutor-general who doubles over as the justice minister.

"The situation is absolutely critical," Mazur said. "Of course, we still have independent-minded judges, but the institutional upholding of our independence is almost completely destroyed."

What to read next

Retail chain employees stage work-to-rule protest in Poland
Polish Senate backs judicial overhaul, doesn't care about EU
Polish president says critics in EU are 'lying'