Why did the Internal Security Agency detain the Head of the Open Dialogue Foundation Board?
The Polish authorities are fighting human rights defenders:
On 23 June 2021 at 11 a.m. Bartosz Kramek, Head of the Open Dialogue Foundation Board, was detained by officers of the Internal Security Agency Delegation in Lublin on order of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Lublin. Right after that he was taken from Warsaw to Lublin to be “charged” and questioned. The accusations levelled at Bartosz Kramek and the Foundation are absurd, groundless and constitute a manifestation of the political struggle against non-governmental organisations that are inconvenient for the authorities. We demand his immediate release.
According to the latest information we received (as of 7:00 p.m.), Bartosz Kramek’s defence counsel met him only in the evening. We also know that the Head of the Open Dialogue Foundation Board refused to give explanations and was detained. A further meeting with the prosecutor and, in all likelihood, an arrest hearing is due to take place on June 24 at 9 a.m. We learnt that the prosecution seeks to apply a pre-trial detention measure against Kramek for a period of three months. What is even more scandalous, we have received our information regarding the “allegations” mainly from the propaganda media, which (traditionally) are the first to receive information directly from law enforcement agencies and from communications published by government agencies.
Bartosz Kramek (husband of Lyudmyla Kozlovska) during the protest in defence of Lyudmyla Kozlovska in front of the Ministry of Interior. Warsaw, August 23, 2018. Photo: Dawid Zuchowicz / Agencja Gazeta
Since 2017, despite strenuous attempts, the United Right government has been unable to prove any of the alleged crimes (ranging from incorrect tax return clearance to organising a coup d’état) stated in numerous proceedings against the Foundation or individuals associated with it. Now the government camp desperately wants to stop around 20 lawsuits filed by the Open Dialogue Foundation against PiS politicians and propaganda centres supporting them, and, probably, to cover up recent scandals (including Dworczyk’s email case).
The detention of Bartosz Kramek is unfounded and illegal. His behaviour did not give the slightest reason to assume that he intended to go into hiding. Since the beginning of 2021, there has not been a month in which he has not spent at least a week in Poland. He regularly took part in anti-government protests and appeared at numerous court hearings and hearings concerning the Foundation, including during the lockdown period. On June 22, the day before he was detained, Kramek had just flown to Warsaw for further hearings against Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of “Gazeta Polska”, and Wojciech Biedroń (publicist of the “wPolityce.pl” magazine), who were part of the aforementioned counter-offensive actions of the ODF against politicians of the ruling camp and its acolytes.
The use of arrest against Bartosz Kramek is another form of pressure calculated to have a chilling effect on civil society. The actions of the United Right’s government against the Open Dialogue Foundation recall the modus operandi of autocratic systems such as in Belarus, Russia or Kazakhstan, where, since its establishment, the Open Dialogue has been active in the field of human rights and democracy. This model seeks to intimidate critics of power, destroy their reputation and paralyse their activity while maintaining the appearance of legality.
Over the past few years, the Foundation has repeatedly published corrections and refuted allegations that one of the Foundation’s donors, the Silk Road company owned by Bartosz Kramek, was “hiding funds in tax havens”, “laundering money” and “had connections with shady businesses”, which was supposed to imply “criminal origin of the funds” of the Open Dialogue Foundation. The accusations levelled by the prosecution – which is a body completely subordinated to those in power in the PiS state – have no cover in the facts and are aimed at destroying the good name of the Foundation and the individuals associated with it. The prosecution’s statement to journalists is filled with terms designed to evoke negative emotions in the recipient: tax havens, Panama Papers, criminal income, virtual offices – although in fact none of the “accusations” of the Internal Security Agency refers to any illegal activity.
The allegations made against the Head of the Open Dialogue Foundation Board in the public prosecutor’s communiqué are of a typically grotesque and propagandistic nature, turning logic upside down. Typically, taxpayers are accused of dishonest actions to the detriment of the Polish tax authorities. Kramek’s company, by contrast, is accused of issuing invoices to foreign companies for services that have allegedly not been performed. In other words, the Polish authorities are questioning the revenues of a Polish company paying income tax in Poland. The public prosecutor’s office defends foreign entrepreneurs and the countries in which they settle their taxes, accusing Polish entrepreneurs of acting dishonestly or even criminally to their detriment and to the detriment of foreign countries’ budgets. The latter also sounds absurd, because “these countries are tax havens”. No less bizarre is the fact that the Polish authorities have sought legal assistance from the Russian authorities in this case. Neither the Open Dialogue Foundation nor the company headed by Bartosz Kramek has conducted any business in Russia. Our only activity in that country is the consistent defence of human rights – one of the Foundation’s core activities.
No authorities had any objections to the activities of the Foundation or to entities and individuals associated with it… until 2017, when representatives of the Open Dialogue Foundation criticised the unconstitutional changes to the justice system introduced by the ruling camp centred around the PiS party. From that moment on, we have been targeted by the authorities. In addition to disinformation campaigns, government agencies and representatives of the ruling party have brought numerous cases against the Foundation. So far, all of them have been settled in our favour. Treasury audits and investigations by the Internal Security Agency held since 2018, which have been ongoing for several years, have been repeatedly extended and, in general, do not bode well for the authorities. They were also long ago recognised as unreasonable by media outlets such as Onet and Super Express.
In particular, government administration bodies acting for political reasons – based on materials provided by secret services – have several times lost to the Open Dialogue Foundation in an administrative court (most recently and for the third time in the same case in April 2021). The government side has not been able to show reasons for refusing to grant Bartosz Kramek’s wife and President of the Foundation, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the right of residence in Poland, or to justify to other Member States the reasons for blacklisting her in the Schengen Information System (SIS). It is worth pointing out that this entry was ignored by the governments of Germany, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. In the face of the inability to prove that the Open Dialogue Foundation committed a crime, as well as probably to cover up the recent scandals, the state authorities are presenting accusations unsupported by evidence (apart from speculation and guesswork) as a result of the investigation against an NGO known for its sharp criticism of those in power. In our opinion, through repressions against Bartosz Kramek’s Foundation, the authorities are testing a way to deal with the democratic opposition and the third sector.
We will give a detailed statement, with reference to the specific allegations of the prosecution, once our defence lawyers have access to the case file. To date we have been forced to rely on official announcements and media reports.