We Don’t Jail People for Doing Good in Poland

Steve Harris/torontodailyphoto via flickr || CC 2.0

The fact that the Polish public TV is the biggest fake news factory in the country has been well known for some time. But the news about the Ministry of Justice becoming a national center of hate speech truly electrified Poland in July.

The Onet.pl news site reported that Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak encouraged an online blogger and hater, identified as Emilia, to discredit some judges who had been critical of the PiS government. Emilia is understood to be the wife of a pro-government judge with close ties to the Ministry of Justice.

Minister Piebiak reportedly furnished Emilia with personal data of the targeted judges in violation of Poland’s privacy laws (i.a. GDPR). He used his access to special files of the Ministry to collect information about private life of critical judges, including that related to their children.

The main target of the hate speech campaign was Krystian Markiewicz, a judge and law professor who serves as the Head of Iustitia, an association of Polish judges that has been fiercely critical of attempts to assert direct control over the appointment, promotion, and discipline of all the country’s judges.

One component of the Piebiak’s plan was to circulate a paper full of unsubstantiated allegations about Markiewicz’s private life.

Responding to blogger’s suggestion, the deputy minister is alleged to have written:

“I think it will help. It is important that it sweeps through Iustitia to let them know who we are dealing with. People will spread it, and Markiewicz will fade away, knowing what we have on him.”

The paper was distributed to more than 2,500 people, mostly journalists and judges associated with Iustitia.

Markiewicz told TVN24, a privet TV station:

“We are dealing with systematic actions taken against judges, against the rule of law in Poland. If such an attack can be made against judges and professors, it means it can be made against everyone.”

Emilia voiced concern that it might get her into trouble if it came out what she did, but Minister Piebiak appeared to offer her immunity in return. “We don’t jail people for doing good,” he wrote.

She was also looking for help sending emails to Jarosław Kaczyński. Emilia admitted to Onet.pl that her campaign may have harmed up to 20 judges.

In another alleged exchange, the deputy minister and the blogger discussed a plan to share with media details of an alleged extra-marital affair involving another judge from of Iustitia.

The allegations were broadcast on state television (TVP) on May 2018, after which Emilia wrote to Piebiak asking whether he approved of the result. Piebiak is alleged to have replied: “Great, I am just sending it to the boss, to make him happy.”

The sentence about the boss raises an important question if the deputy minister acted alone or was doing it in cooperation with “the boss”. And who is his boss? Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro.

It is unclear whether Ziobro, the minister of justice, was aware of the campaign, but it is likely he was. Opposition parties and civil society demand his immediate demission.

People gather in city centers and by the courts to protest about the injustice and hatred in the ministry.

Nobody believes that the public prosecutors can run an independent investigation. Zbigniew Ziobro is both justice minister and prosecutor general. He controls all prosecutors and can intervene in any case. He would not allow any real investigation against himself.

The only person who could do something about this situation is PM Mateusz Morawiecki. But he depends on Jarosław Kaczyński who is not going to act against powerful minister Ziobro, lead candidate in Kraków in the October elections.

Mateusz Morawiecki, said in a statement that

“I demanded explanations from the minister of justice in this matter. We will see what these explanations will be and take the appropriate decisions”.

So far only Łukasz Piebiak resigned. It was important to mention that Piebiak is himself a judge who was contracted by the Ministry. He was a regional judge, who played a leading role in the controversial judiciary reform that gave his boss, Minister Ziobro, new competences, including the power to dismiss court presidents, and the appointment to key positions of PiS-leaning judges with close professional and personal links to the minister himself.

Minister Ziobro used these powers and promoted mediocre judges, also judges with disciplinary problems, so that they will be thankful and loyal to him. The consequences of such policy we can see now.

The network within the Ministry of Justice is compared to mafia by many liberal commentators, and Emilia to a crown witness who can expose all the abnormalities.

“I apologize to those who I have smeared. I regret it. I wish I could turn back time” – reads a statement published by “Gazeta Wyborcza”, written by Emilia. “Poland, the Poles, must find out the truth about the propaganda machine and destroying of people in Poland,” she added.

Dozens of screen shots of conversations on WhatsApp group were published. It was a group of PiS-friendly judges who were exchanging idea on how to discredit other, critical, judges.

One of the ideas was to organize a campaign of hateful and vulgar postcards to prof. Małgorzata Gersdorf, president of the Supreme Court, who was fighting passionately for the independence of the judiciary in Poland. It was an idea of judge Konrad Wytrykowski, member of the newly created Disciplinary Chamber in the Supreme Court.

There were more judges from this Chamber and new National Committee of the Judiciary, both fully dominated by PiS, on the WhatsApp list. They were all appointed by PiS to ensure a moral renewal of the judiciary. And indeed they brought new standers, organizing a mass hate speech campaign against their more successful colleagues with use of public funds and classified information.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Warsaw University political scientist Anna Materska-Sosnowska said that:

“This is an assault on the judicial branch coming from the justice ministry, so the scope of this scandal is beyond any scale,” adding, “In normal circumstances this should provoke an earthquake and a wave of dismissals at the justice ministry. Will it happen two months ahead of elections? I don’t think so.”

The article was originally published in the Newsletter “From Poland with Love” available at https://fnf-europe.org/2019/09/12/from-poland-with-love-august-2/

Milosz Hodun