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20th Aug 2022

Interview

Judge faces Polish prison for political reasons

  • 'I have a youthful spirit,' judge Igor Tuleya, from Łódź, said (Photo: Ralf Lotys)

Rule of law in Poland could be gravely harmed on 20 March unless the EU takes action, Igor Tuleya, a Polish judge who faces prison for his verdicts, has said.

Tuleya could be jailed for six months to three years if a new disciplinary board waives his immunity later this month.

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He has been charged with spoiling a trial by inviting reporters to a closed court hearing back in 2017.

But in reality he was being punished for his verdicts, which went against Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, he told EUobserver in an interview.

"The court was fully entitled to make its hearing open to the public, according to Poland's penal code," he said on the 2017 trial.

"But my verdict was definitely painful for the ruling party because I detailed the violations which had taken place to make sure opposition MPs could not take part in a parliamentary debate [on the national budget]," Tuleya said.

PiS created the new disciplinary board as part of reforms it said were needed to clean up the judiciary.

But the European Commission has also said the changes harmed judicial independence and has asked the EU court in Luxembourg to issue an injunction on the new board's work.

Tuleya said his case was meant to "frighten other judges, to have a chilling effect, to show them: 'Look: He issued a verdict which we [PiS] think was wrong, so he was punished'."

"Poland is going back to the 1980s, when we were closed off from the world," he said, referring to Poland's communist-era one-party state.

And if Poland started jailing judges, it would become more like "Erdoğan's Turkey or Putin's Russia, where judges are also persecuted for their decisions," than a normal EU state, Tuleya said, referring to Turkish and Russian presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin.

"The 20th of March [the disciplinary board hearing] is a key day," Tuleya added.

"It's the last moment to save the rule of law in Poland," he said.

Last moment

Tuleya is one of about 60 judges who have already faced harassment by PiS politicians, pro-PiS media, and PiS-linked social media hate groups for their verdicts.

The EU country has about 10,000 judges and "the vast majority of them, more than 90 percent" respected the rule of law, he said.

Most ordinary Poles were also pro-Europeans and there would be street protests when the PiS disciplinary board met on 20 March, Tuleya told this website.

But if PiS continued to "destroy" Polish courts, then it would harm rule of law in the EU more broadly and might even drag Poland out of Europe one day, he warned.

"Since we are in a union, destroying Polish courts is the same as destroying European courts," Tuleya said.

"If you question not just EU values, but also fundamental EU institutions and EU law, then it means you don't want to be part of this Europe," he said.

"If you punish Polish judges for verdicts that apply EU law, then it's a legal Polexit [Polish-exit], which could lead to a real Polexit down the line," he added.

The EU court in Luxembourg is to hold a hearing on Monday (9 March) on its injunction on the PiS disciplinary board.

The European Commission is also trying to hold back the PiS juggernaut with threats of other sanctions.

"The most important thing is that the EU doesn't sell its rules and values in talks with the Polish government in return for some economic concessions or empty climate declarations", Tuleya told EUobserver.

A Polish prison

The 49-year old from the city of Łódź in central Poland has also campaigned against PiS judicial reforms in Polish media and at public events, such as rock festivals.

"I might be old going by the calendar, but I have a youthful spirit," he said.

Asked if he still felt good in his native country, Tuleya said: "Poland is my country. It belongs to everybody".

"I've never thought of running away and I won't let anyone throw me out. If they waive my immunity and put me in prison, then I'll be sitting in a Polish prison and it'll still be my country," he said.

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