Rights group chides Poland for ‘harassment’ of protesters

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Klementyna Suchanow, a women’s rights activist, was filming an anti-government protest in Warsaw in July when she says a police officer grabbed her without warning, pushed her against a traffic light pole and elbowed her in the face.

The 43-year-old’s case is just one cited by Amnesty International in a report alleging that Polish authorities have used surveillance, prosecutions and harassment — and excessive force in some cases — against peaceful anti-government protesters since 2016.

The report released Thursday and entitled “Poland: on the streets to defend human rights,” says authorities have at times carried out prolonged ID checks of protesters, depriving them of their freedom of movement. It also cites the cases of two protesters put under police surveillance, which was justified on the grounds of maintaining public order.

Amnesty said such steps violate international human rights norms and called on Polish authorities to fully respect the right of free assembly.

“The Polish government is trying to instill fear in those who want to peacefully protest,” Barbora Cernusakova, a researcher with Amnesty International who monitors Poland, said.

Poland’s Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police forces, said the allegations were “unjustified” and argued that security forces acted within the law.

“All actions by the security forces toward the participants of (public) gatherings are solely related to breaches of regulations, meaning crimes or offenses,” the ministry’s press office said in an email to The Associated Press.

The report is based on the observations of Amnesty monitors at some protests and interviews with protesters.

The ruling Law and Justice, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, took power two years ago, and remains popular, with many Poles supportive of its conservative and anti-migrant policies and new welfare subsidies.

But critics have staged repeated street demonstrations at the way it has broken the country’s own laws as it consolidates power. In July large protests erupted over the party’s efforts to take control of the entire judicial system, something strongly criticized as a rule of law violation by the European Union.

Other measures put through by the government have also been contentious, including increasing police powers of surveillance and some limitations on the right to assembly.

Amnesty says the laws on assembly and measures used to implement them have been “often unnecessary and disproportionate.”

Altogether, Amnesty said the government moves “reflect an environment in Poland where there is an ever-shrinking space for the public to express its opposition to repressive and often unlawful measures by the state.

It added that they also “threaten to have a chilling effect on future endeavors to express such opposition via peaceful public assemblies.”

The global rights group, which is headquartered in London, also expressed concerns that authorities have filed criminal charges against a handful of protesters.

Cernusakova called the steps “draconian” and urged the government to drop those cases.


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