Kaczyński called to testify in investigation into Pegasus spyware use in Poland

A newly established parliamentary commission tasked with investigating the use of Pegasus spyware under the former Law and Justice (PiS) government – including against the party’s political opponents – has called PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński as its first witness.

The commission’s chair, Magdalena Sroka, pledged that the body “will establish the group of people responsible for, harmed by and attacked by the Pegasus system, in order to show the mechanism of operation of authorities dreaming of absolute power, authorities who violated the rules of democracy, politicians eavesdropping on lawyers, journalists and normal people”.

A number of other senior PiS politicians – including two former ministers recently jailed for abuse of power and then pardoned by PiS-aligned president Andrzej Duda – were also called to testify before the commission, which started its work today.

– Ta komisja ustali krąg osób odpowiedzialnych, pokrzywdzonych i atakowanych systemem Pegasus. Żeby pokazać mechanizm działania władzy marzącej o władzy absolutnej – mówiła przewodnicząca @MagdalenaSroka (PSL-TD).

Relacja w https://t.co/68fLeYd0pG:
👉https://t.co/EL6FoM9NY4 pic.twitter.com/4HMTlXuDP9

— tvn24 (@tvn24) February 19, 2024

The period that the commission will focus on covers almost the entire span of PiS rule, from 16 November 2015, when they took power, to 20 November 2023, a month after the elections in which PiS lost its majority but three weeks before a new ruling coalition took office.

Sroka, the commission’s head, is part of that new ruling coalition, serving as an MP for the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga grouping). She was previously a senior figure in the Agreement (Porozumienie) party that served as a junior coalition partner to PiS until 2021. She today proposed calling Kaczyński as the first witness.

“Jarosław Kaczyński was probably the first person from the [former] ruling party to confirm that such a [Pegasus] system had been purchased officially. I think it will be of great value if we can all hear about [his] knowledge or ignorance [on the matter],” said Sroka, quoted by the Onet news service.

Ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has confirmed that Poland bought Pegasus spyware but denies that it was used for political purposes against the opposition.

The government has previously refused to confirm whether it had purchased Pegasus https://t.co/AWAEXkBV3g

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 7, 2022

“As the person who leads the largest party [in parliament], which is in the opposition today, he will be an invaluable witness to our commission,” she added.

A majority of the 11-member commission, which includes four MPs from PiS’s parliamentary caucus, approved the calling of Kaczyński as a witness.

They also called former security services minister Mariusz Kamiński and his deputy Maciej Wąsik, the two PiS MPs recently jailed and then pardoned.

Other witnesses will include Zbigniew Ziobro, who served as justice minister in the PiS government, and Krzysztof Brejza, a member of the new ruling coalition who, in 2019, had his phone surveilled using Pegasus while he was the election campaign manager of what was then Poland’s main opposition party.

A politician whose phone was surveilled with Pegasus spyware has won an apology and 200,000 zloty compensation from state TV, which published his private messages.

The former PiS government was accused of using Pegasus against opponents to discredit them https://t.co/xHzSzqFKy3

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 18, 2023

The commission, however, rejected requests to question witnesses proposed by PiS, including the former head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) Paweł Wojtunik, prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek and Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski.

Wrzosek, a prominent critic of the judicial changes introduced under PiS, has previously been identified as a target for surveillance with Pegasus. Other victims included two figures critical of the PiS government, Roman Giertych and Michał Kołodziejczak, who are both now members of the new ruling coalition.

According to media reports from recent weeks, some PiS politicians were spied on with the use of the software during the time that PiS was in power.

A Senate commission has found that Pegasus spyware was used illegally against opposition figures and that its use rendered the 2019 elections unfair.

The interior minister – who is among those accused of crimes by the commission – denies the accusations https://t.co/vwYUcAEXqf

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 8, 2023

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said today that the commission’s task must be to “fully explain” the use of Pegasus and “free Poland from the atmosphere of ambiguity” over the issue.

“I don’t want to comment on the dozens and hundreds of conjectures about who PiS was eavesdropping on. The very fact that there is a growing belief in Poland that PiS has been wiretapping everyone, including each other, is something intolerable,” he said, quoted by broadcaster TVN.

However, one of the PiS-nominated members of the commission, called for the body not to “demonise the use of any software by the security services and which allows them to fight criminals”.

Spyware has been used in Poland to „systematically surveil the opposition” in order to „keep the government in power”, an EU report has found.

„The information harvested is used in smear campaigns through government-controlled state media,” it adds https://t.co/xlrZ0O8Qe4

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 10, 2023

Last year, a European Parliament inquiry found that Poland had used Pegasus as part of “a system for the surveillance of the opposition and critics of the government – designed to keep the ruling majority and the government in power”.

Soon after, a commission established by the Polish Senate found that the PiS government’s purchase of Pegasus was illegal and that its use against opposition figures rendered the 2019 elections unfair.

In December, a court ordered state broadcaster TVP to apologise to Brejza and pay him 200,000 zloty in compensation for publishing private messages taken from his phone using Pegasus spyware. During the PiS government, TVP was a party mouthpiece regularly used to attack the opposition.

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Sławomir Kamiński / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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