The European Parliament has voted to strip the immunity of four MEPs representing Poland’s ruling party so that they can face a hate-crime indictment in their homeland.
The quartet – Patryk Jaki, Beata Kempa, Tomasz Poręba and Beata Mazurek – have argued that the decision is a political one and an attack on their free speech by the “communist European state”.
The accusations against them date back to 2018, when the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was campaigning in local elections in Poland.
As part of that campaign, it published an advert suggesting that, under the opposition, Poland would be flooded with refugees and that by 2020 the country would see violence on the streets of the type witnessed in western Europe.
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) October 17, 2018
Subsequently, complaints were made to prosecutors against PiS politicians who had liked or shared the video on social media. They were filed by the then commissioner for human rights, Adam Bodnar, and by Rafał Gaweł, founder of the Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behavior (OMZRiK).
Prosecutors – who are under the ultimate authority of Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister and public prosecutor general – repeatedly rejected those complaints or discontinued proceedings, reports news website Interia.
Eventually, Gaweł submitted what is called a subsidiary indictment, which is a form of notifying a court directly of a suspected crime when prosecutors have refused to take up the case.
In the indictment, he named 12 PiS politicians, four of whom are current MEPs. They are accused of violating article 256 of Poland’s criminal code, which punishes those who incite hatred on the basis of national, ethnic, racial or religious differences with up to three years in prison.
A court has ordered Polish state TV to apologise for „xenophobic and racist material” it broadcast about immigrants.
The station must also make a 50,000 złoty donation to an immigrant support centre https://t.co/OKL9M9LGIX
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 17, 2021
A district court in Warsaw found that the indictment had a valid legal basis but that a trial could not take place because the MEPs have parliamentary immunity from prosecution. It therefore requested that the European Parliament lift their immunity.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted in favour of the request. The issue was then put to a vote in the main chamber today and, in the case of each of the four PiS MEPs, a large majority of members of the European Parliament voted to lift their immunity.
The quartet have all been prominent figures in Poland’s ruling camp. Jaki is a former deputy justice minister; Kempa served as a minister without portfolio and the prime minister’s chief of staff; Mazurek was PiS’s spokeswoman and Poręba served as the party’s election campaign chief in 2019 and again this year.
They have condemned the move to strip them of immunity. In a post on X, Jaki accused the European Parliament of trying to create a “communist European state” in which someone can be “jailed for clicking [something] on the internet”.
PE właśnie w radosnej atmosferze pozbawił mnie immunitetu za polubienie spotu na Twitterze, który pokazywał prawdziwe sceny przemocy nielegalnych migrantów w Europie. Oni nazywają to „mową nienawiści” i chcą nas skazać z par. 256 KK, za który grozi 3 lata więzienia.
👉Więc tak… pic.twitter.com/bg2bKGtTsC
— Patryk Jaki – MEP (@PatrykJaki) November 9, 2023
“For the first time in the history of the European Parliament, MEPs lost their immunity for liking something on Facebook,” declared Kempa. “Something new is coming: political trials for liking on the internet. Bravo – communism is back.”
OMZRiK, however, today accused the politicians of “lying” about the fact they were being taken to court simply for liking posts on social media.
“This is about the deliberate dissemination of racist content on a large scale, content ordered by the PiS electoral staff, which was then led by Tomasz Poręba, one of the accused MEPs,” wrote the centre in a statement on Facebook.
As well as the quartet of MEPs, OMZRiK also issued its indictment against other PiS figures, including two current government ministers, Piotr Gliński (culture) and Mariusz Błaszczak (defence), as well as Krystyna Pawłowicz, a former PiS MP who is now a constitutional court judge.
However, PiS figures have noted that Gaweł, the founder of OMZRiK who filed the indictment, was previously convicted in Poland of fraud and sentenced to two years in prison.
But he fled the country after being sentenced and sought asylum in Norway, claiming that he had faced political persecution in Poland. In 2020, Norway awarded him asylum.
Norway has granted asylum to a Polish person for the first time since the communist era
Rafał Gaweł, the founder of a centre for monitoring racism, fled Poland before being found guilty of fraud and extortion, claiming the justice system was „politicised” https://t.co/pcDh6a0fKK
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 8, 2020
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Main image credit: © European Union 2022 (under CC BY 4.0)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.