Monday

25th Jan 2021

Polish minister targeted judges in hate campaign

  • Warsaw: Polish ruling party has sparked EU concern on rule of law (Photo: Jorge Lascar)

Poland's deputy minister of justice personally organised a hate campaign against selected judges, a newspaper investigation has found.

The attacks were part of a wider campaign against judges who opposed government reforms.

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But it remains to be seen whether the incoming European Commission will be as tough on Poland as the former one was amid recent backroom deals.

Lukasz Piebiak, the deputy justice minister, coordinated the attacks last year with a pro-government activist called Emilia, according to their email correspondence published on Monday (19 August) by Polish news website onet.pl, which withheld her family name.

In one of the attacks, Piebiak and Emilia conspired to send anonymous accusations that Krystian Markiewicz, the head of a Polish judges' association called Iustitia, who had criticised the government, had had an affair, had gotten his lover pregnant, and had put pressure on her to have an abortion.

Emilia emailed and physically mailed the dossier to some 2,500 journalists as well as other members of Iustitia and to Markiewicz's private home address, which Piebiak gave her in violation of data privacy laws.

"I think it'll help. It's important that people in Iustitia at least know who they are dealing with. People will spread it, and Markiewicz will quieten down knowing what there's going round about him," Piebiak, the right-hand man of Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, said in one of the leaked emails.

Emilia voiced concern that she might get her into trouble if it came out what she did, but Piebiak appeared to offer her immunity in return.

"We don't jail people for doing good," he wrote.

In a second attack, Emilia circulated material about another government-critical judge, Piotr Gaciark, and his personal problems with his girlfriend.

"There might be an explosive little segment in Alarm [a Polish TV show]. I hope I didn't disappoint," Emilia wrote to Piebiak.

"I can only be grateful for such a beautifully executed operation," Piebiak wrote back.

Emilia admitted to onet.pl that her campaign may have harmed up to 20 judges.

Piebiak admitted to knowing who she was from social media, where she also posted public attacks on judges, but declined to comment further.

It is unclear whether Ziobro, the justice minister, was aware of the campaign, but Piebiak did say in his emails that he was keeping his "boss" informed.

Ziobro is the main architect of the Polish government's wider attack on the Polish judiciary, which has also involved forced retirements, disciplinary proceedings against judges who defended judicial independence, and online smear campaigns.

'Belarus in EU'

"The main task of the ministry run by Ziobro and Piebiak appears to be the subjugation of all judges to the current government ... these are Belarusian methods being used in an EU country," Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, an opposition MP from the Modern party, said in reaction to the onet.pl revelations.

The opposition Civic Platform party called for Piebiak's resignation.

"Is there a troll farm in every PiS ministry?", Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, a former Civic Platform interior minister, also said, referring to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The previous PiS attacks on Polish judges led the EU commission to open a sanctions procedure against Warsaw in late 2017.

The main proponent of the process, Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans, failed in his bid to be the next commission president.

The incoming president, German politician Ursula von der Leyen, has also promised to defend rule of law after she takes up office in November.

EU deal?

But the fact she secured her nomination thanks to PiS votes in the European Parliament has prompted speculation of a backroom deal to let PiS off the hook.

Poland wanted a commission chief who "built bridges" instead of one [Timmermans] who "lectures, scolds, divides, and creates conflicts in Europe", Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told press after speaking with German chancellor Angela Merkel on von der Leyen's candidacy in July.

"I am a cautious optimist. I believe we will have a partner on the other side completely different from the one [Timmermans] who posed a threat to central Europe by his lack of understanding," Morawiecki said.

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