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Friday, April 23, 2021

Poland’s crackdown on dissent hits a nerve among a former U.S. citizen

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A Polish government-appointed court official ordered the detention of a leading critic of the country’s authoritarian government for over a week, sparking fears of a crackdown on dissent.

Kacper Pempel, the information minister from the ruling Law and Justice Party, formed a special tribunal to investigate the resident of Bałtura, Poland, Evodik Janousek, a human rights activist. Janousek, who is based in New York, has been sharply critical of government policies and the Czech Republic, where he lives, encouraging Polish people to leave Poland.

Janousek was summoned to the tribunal on Sept. 26 and denied access to his lawyer. One week later, he went to the court again, expecting to be given a court date. But that was denied, the website Polsat News reports.

The government appointed the special tribunal because of Janousek’s criticisms of the ruling party. Janousek said he was not sent to prison because of his political opinions. He said that his detention appears to be political retaliation.

“The incident shows that the Law and Justice Party is going to ban and pressure anyone who spreads opinions with which it doesn’t agree and this is much more serious than the screening of critical news sites because people were not sent to prison for criticizing the government,” Janousek told Polsat News.

In Poland, mandatory court hearings of defendants are usually held behind closed doors. So, Janousek had to remain in Bałtura, in a town whose name means “If we can’t handle it in Bałtura,” and attend court hearings via camera. It was too cold to stay inside.

Amnesty International’s deputy director in Poland, Irena Justyna, said the law makes no sense. “Political reasons justify no excuse for violating the legal rights of prisoners,” she said.

Janousek was only released when someone paid 4 million zloty (about $1.5 million) into a special court account, and the tribunal confirmed that it had acted as intended, according to Polsat News.

To add further complication, this is not the first time the Polish government has locked up a political critic. Last year, prosecutors started an investigation into an opposition lawmaker for attacking the constitutional court in public, even though the court was not in session. In the ruling party’s defense, Atajan Law and Justice, the party’s youth wing, presented an appeal that ultimately made the case disappear.

The tribunal was set up after the refusal of a local court to issue a verdict in a case in which the prosecution asked for $21,000. In the case, a woman was charged with attacking a police officer.

“It’s a cynical and cynical use of the justice system. It shows that the government uses any excuse to abuse the justice system,” Olga Vadzhanu, chairwoman of the Committee for Defense of Human Rights, an independent human rights group, told The New York Times.

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