Poland’s president has said he plans to pardon two imprisoned opposition politicians for a second time, adding that he hoped the move would ease mounting tensions between the country’s new government and its populist predecessor.
The former interior minister Mariusz Kamiński and his ex-deputy Maciej Wąsik – both from the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which lost its majority in October elections – were jailed on Tuesday after being arrested in the presidential palace.
Originally convicted in 2015 for abuse of their authority while working at Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau nearly a decade earlier, the pair lost their appeal against the verdict in December and were sentenced to two years in prison.
While Poland’s PiS-aligned president, Andrzej Duda, pardoned them in 2015, allowing them to serve in the last government, his decision was overturned by the supreme court on the grounds that it had been granted before a final appeal court ruling.
Duda has long insisted the 2015 pardons were “definitive”, but after meeting the two men’s wives on Thursday said he was launching new clemency proceedings. Both Kamiński and Wąsik have begun hunger strikes, saying they are “political prisoners”.
Maciej Wąsik, left, and Marius Kamínski talking to the media earlier this month. They were initially pardoned by Duda in 2015, but the supreme court ruled that invalid. Photograph: Paweł Wodzyński/East News/REX/Shutterstock
“I had said I would make every effort so that these men are free again, as soon as possible, so that they would be free people and not political prisoners,” Duda said. “I hope this will also calm the unrest in our country.”
The president said he had applied to the prosecutor general for the pair to be released. “We saw the president as a last resort. We’re hoping to see our husbands back home today,” Wąsik’s wife, Romualda, told local media.
Duda’s announcement came as thousands of PiS supporters protested in Warsaw against the pair’s detention and government efforts to undo eight years of PiS rule, including reforms of state media that had become PiS propaganda mouthpieces.
PiS faces numerous accusations of subverting the rule of law, and Poland’s new prime minister, Donald Tusk, who has pledged to restore EU democratic norms and unblock tens of billions of euros in frozen EU funding, faces an uphill battle to evict loyal nationalists from key roles in the judiciary, media and other state bodies.
The row over Kamiński and Wąsik highlights the judicial chaos in the country, with PiS’s changes – many of which have been ruled illegal by Polish and European judges – having resulted, in effect, in a dual legal system. Different courts, and sometimes different chambers of the same court, are delivering contradictory rulings in the same cases: the PiS-controlled constitutional tribunal, for example, has ruled that the supreme court was wrong to overturn Duda’s pardon.
A chamber of the supreme court did, however, rule on Thursday that the result of the October election was valid, providing Tusk with some relief.
Leaders of the former government, however, maintain the new coalition’s efforts to restore neutrality at state-run radio and TV stations, and the national news agency PAP, are illegal, with Polish and international legal experts also expressing doubts.