President Andrzej Duda has announced that a pardon has been issued to two opposition politicians and former government ministers, Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, who this month began serving two-year jail sentences for abusing their powers while heading Poland’s anti-corruption office.
The move marks a U-turn by the president, who had previously insisted that pardons he issued to the pair in 2015 remained in force – despite being found invalid last year by the Supreme Court – and that he, therefore, would not and could not issue further pardons for the same crime.
Prezydent @AndrzejDuda: Postanowienie w przedmiocie prawa łaski zostało wydane. Panowie są ułaskawieni. Z całą mocą. Apeluję o natychmiastowe procedowanie sprawy dalej – o natychmiastowe wykonanie postanowienia Prezydenta i natychmiastowe uwolnienie panów, zwłaszcza Mariusza… pic.twitter.com/3iE2OI67Pp
— Kancelaria Prezydenta (@prezydentpl) January 23, 2024
In a speech from the presidential palace this evening, Duda – with Kamiński and Wąsik’s wives standing alongside him – declared that he still believes his 2015 pardons remain in force. He cited a Constitutional Tribunal ruling that rejected the Supreme Court’s right to question presidential prerogatives.
Duda also reiterated his belief that Kamiński and Wąsik’s convictions are unjust. He praised their work fighting against corruption and suggested they had been the victims of unfair treatment by the justice system.
The president then announced that pardon proceedings he began two weeks ago have now been completed and “the decision regarding an act of pardon has been issued”. He called for “the immediate release of the gentlemen, especially Mariusz Kamiński due to his health condition”.
Both Kamiński and Wąsik have been on hunger strike since being jailed. Kamiński was yesterday briefly taken to hospital for tests and today his son said the family had been informed that his father would be force-fed in prison through a nasal tube.
One of the two opposition politicians who have been on hunger strike since beginning to serve prison sentences two weeks ago was taken to hospital yesterday.
An ally says he is in „serious but not life-threatening condition” https://t.co/jYXtD87U0G
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 23, 2024
The proceedings to which the president was referring were launched on 11 January, two days after Kamiński and Wąsik had been dramatically detained by police at the presidential palace and taken to begin serving the two-year prison terms they were given last month.
Instead of pardoning them directly, as the president is entitled to do under the constitution, Duda launched a longer procedure that involved first seeking the opinion of the prosecutor general, Adam Bodnar, who is also justice minister in the new government that replaced PiS in power last month.
At the same time, the president appealed to Bodnar to release Kamiński and Wąsik from imprisonment while the request was processed. Bodnar, however, said that he first needed to assess the large amount of documentation on the case sent to him by Duda.
This afternoon, Bodnar announced that he had now assessed the material and sent a recommendation to Duda “not to exercise the right of pardon” for Kamiński and Wąsik. Bodnar noted that his opinion was not binding on the president.
Minister Sprawiedliwości – Prokurator Generalny informuje, że w dniu 23 stycznia 2024 r. do Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej zostały przekazane akta sądowe związane z postępowaniem ułaskawieniowym wobec p. Macieja Wąsika i p. Mariusza Kamińskiego.
Do akt załączony został… pic.twitter.com/Hq2Pzcn3Ph
— Min. Sprawiedliwości (@MS_GOV_PL) January 23, 2024
Duda’s decision to issue a pardon comes after reports that he was facing pressure from PiS. Last week, the party’s chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, was overhead by cameras saying: “I hope that the president will make up his mind and finally free [them]. With the method he has used, it may last another year.”
On Sunday, Rzeczpospolita, a leading newspaper, quoted an unnamed source in PiS saying that they were “trying to convince President Duda to speed up the procedure for re-pardoning Kamiński and Wąsik. We want to get them out of prison as soon as possible”.
As well as arguing that Kamiński and Wąsik were legally pardoned in 2015, PiS and Duda also claim that the pair are, in any case, innocent of any crime. They say the duo are “political prisoners” who have been punished for their effectiveness in tackling corruption.
However, the government notes that law-enforcement authorities jailed the pair following a legally binding conviction after courts found that Kamiński and Wąsik had, when running the Central Anticorruption Burea (CBA), abused their powers by, among other things, ordering illegal surveillance and the production of fake documents.
Two politicians broke the law – they used forged documents to create a fake case against a political opponent – and were sentenced by a court, after a long trial. They are not political prisoners. In the UK they would have been in jail years ago. https://t.co/Sting0YcRF
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) January 22, 2024
Likewise, PiS and Duda argue that, because Kamiński and Wąsik were pardoned in 2015, the sentence they received in December 2023 should not result in them losing their seats as MPs. However, the ruling majority in parliament believes that their mandates have expired and they are no longer MPs.
Two chambers of the Supreme Court have given contradictory rulings on the issue and once the pair are released from prison there may be a further clash over whether they are able to return to parliament.
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: Przemysław Keler/KPRP
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.