Poles protest against legal changes
Thousands of protesters have gathered outside Poland’s parliament to demonstrate against a draft law that would allow the government to replace all Supreme Court (pictured) judges.
The Supreme Court bill is the latest in a series of controversial moves by the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) to overhaul the judiciary, sparking acrimony with the European Commission.
“This whole set of bills is a scandal,” demonstrator Agnieszka Janczarska, a 39-year-old lawyer in Warsaw, told AFP.
“It’s a destruction of the fundamental principles of a democratic state, namely the separation of powers.”
The bill, which would force all Supreme Court judges to quit, except for those kept on by the justice minister, was unveiled on Wednesday, hours after PiS MPs pushed through a separate bill giving parliament greater control over the appointment of judges.
The opposition called it “the announcement of a coup” and argued that, if passed, the Supreme Court bill would remove any remaining independence for Poland’s judiciary.
PiS controls both houses of parliament while the divided and weak opposition has posed little threat to the government, other than participating in protests.
“We, the citizens, are defending the rule of law, we are on the side of the law,” said protest leader Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a prominent pro-democracy activist in the 1980s.
The two main opposition leaders, Grzegorz Schetyna from Civic Platform and Ryszard Petru from the Modern party, attended the protest and pledged to join forces to fight the changes.
The European Commission said it was watching Poland with “great concern” while Warsaw said the reforms would make the court system fairer and more efficient. PiS MPs claimed the judiciary was in need of reform as it was not purged after the collapse of communism.
The municipal authorities said more than 10,000 people joined the protest outside the parliament while the police put the figure at 4,500. Protests also took place in Cracow, Wroclaw and Szczecin. A further demonstration in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw on Sunday also attracted thousands.
Addressing the protest outside parliament, Leszek Balcerowicz, one of the architects of Poland’s post-1989 reforms, said Warsaw had won the “world’s respect” twice since the 1970s. “Once thanks to Lech Walesa and Solidarity, and second thanks to our changes after 1989”.
“[Jaroslaw] Kaczynski [the leader of PiS] recently said the truth, which is that PiS will lead Poland in the opposite direction. Right that is to a socialist dictatorship,” the veteran campaigner said.
The Supreme Court in Warsaw. Picture credit: Wikimedia