Stop prosecuting aid workers, which hinders civil society
Senior Researcher, Eastern Europe and Western Balkans
Polish authorities reached a new low in their attacks on civil society when they arrested and charged a 48-year-old aid worker on September 7 for helping migrants and asylum seekers stranded on Poland’s border. and Belarus due to illegal and illegal activities. often violent, pushbacks from both countries.
Ewa, an aid worker, is accused of leading a criminal group organizing the illegal border crossing into Poland – a crime punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. While criminal proceedings against aid workers in Poland are not rareEwa’s is the first in which a judge ordered pretrial detention, a decision her lawyers are currently appealing.
Beyond Ewa’s detention, the public statements of Zbigniew Ziobro, who is both Minister of Justice and Attorney General, are particularly troubling. Polish law allows the Minister of Justice to intervene arbitrarily in the appointment of judges, in violation of EU law and the right to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence. Ziobro has a history of using his position to interfere in legal processes, and in this case he made public statementshinting at Ewa’s guilt. The law prohibits the defense from commenting on the case during the proceedings.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has repeatedly undermined the independence of courts and disciplined judges who criticize judicial reforms – interferences in the rule of law that have been deemed illegal by the party. Court of Justice of the EU and the European court of human rights.
Ewa’s arrest comes just as Agnieszka Holland’s film, “The green border”, which describes the abuses and illegal returns of migrants and asylum seekers from Poland to Belarus. Government ministers and officials reacted to the film with an avalanche of vitriol, including Ziobro, who called Holland a “supporter of Russian propaganda” who presents Poles “as bandits and murderers” and called the film “Nazi propaganda”.
The pushbacks violate international law by denying access to asylum procedures and due process, and Polish courts have several occasions deemed the pushbacks at the Belarusian border illegal. Nevertheless, a Polish border guard commander in May 2022 admitted to Human Rights Watch that its staff engage in pushbacks.
Instead of prosecuting and criminalizing those who provide aid to people stranded and suffering due to illegal policies and practices, the Polish government would do better to respect its obligations under international refugee law and European law and offer people the opportunity to apply for asylum. The European Commission should call on Poland to immediately stop criminalizing civil society.
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