On July 20th, 2021, we organised an online hearing on the worrisome situation in Poland regarding police brutality against peaceful protestors. The event has also featured the presentation of our “Appeal against Brutality and Impunity of Police in Poland” with the attached list of recent instances of police abuse against activists and demonstrators, and signed by a number of the victims and leading organisations defending them.
The hearing was organised under the patronage of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs):
– Robert Biedroń and Łukasz Kohut (S&D, Poland)
– Róża Thun (EPP, Poland),
– Michal Šimečka (RE, Slovakia), and Ramona- Victoria Strugariu (RE, Romania).
Featured as speakers were:
– Marta Lempart (founder of the All-Polish Women’s Strike),
– Ronald Kraszewski (Polish-American LGBT activist and initiator of the appeal against police violence),
– Angelika Domańska (civil activist and victim of police brutality),
– Eliza Rutynowska (lawyer for the Civil Development Forum)
– Bartosz Kramek (Chair of ODF’s Supervisory Board).
In her opening statement, MEP Ramona Strugariu highlighted the importance of bringing abuse at the hands of the police to light, as it represents not only “a battle for Poland”, but also “a battle for Europe”, as well as democracy and human rights. She also stressed the European Parliament’s actions in response to systematic attacks against fundamental rights and the rule of law in Poland. Ms Strugariu reassured activists and victims of abuse in Poland that the EU will not give up in its fight to defend basic rights in Poland, recognizing the important role of EU institutions in this fight.
Next, MEP Michal Šimečka discussed the importance of taking the situation in Poland out of abstract terms such as the backsliding of democratic values, and instead allow first-hand accounts of abuse to personally represent the dire situation in Poland. The MEP from Slovakia expressed his concern regarding police brutality in Poland, and stressed the unfortunate circumstances surrounding our discussion, as such conversations are typically only had regarding non-EU member states.
In her statement, MEP Róża Thun highlighted the non-partisan nature of our discussion, as MEPS from S&D, RE, and the EPP agreed to host the hearing on abuse at the hands of Polish police.
Marta Lempart subsequently directed attention to the fact that, for the last 8 months, activists and protestors have been detained and investigated on a daily basis by the Polish authorities.
Marta also stressed that, in direct similarities to other authoritarian states, the Polish government pursued legal action against such individuals under different laws (such as traffic, property, etc.) instead of assembly laws, to effectively restrict the freedom of assembly. She linked the crisis regarding the rule of law and independence of judiciary in Poland to the struggles of peaceful demonstrators at the hands of police, stating: “We wouldn’t have had the ban on abortion if we had judicial independence and the rule of law”.
Angelika Domańska outlined her experiences as an activist and demonstrator in very stark terms (see her detailed testimonies attached). In her personal account, she outlined the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of law enforcement officers: including being held for 18 hours without sleep, without medicine to treat her diabetes, as well as with no food. At one point, after falling into a coma as a result of being denied her basic needs, a police officer began filming her in order to establish their own innocence in case Ms Domańska died under their watch. After being released from detainment, multiple times, she found herself unable to pursue any legal action as a result of the injuries and damage caused by the police, as they were protected by the politicised Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Eliza Rutynowska, speaking next as a lawyer for the Civil Development Forum, had the opportunity to represent Angelika Domańska in court in one of her cases against the law enforcement officers. Eliza stressed that Ms Domańska’s case is not unique, as there are countless people she has had experience with who have been detained simply for displaying a rainbow flag, or because they might “look like” protestors. She outlined her experience as a lawyer on the so-called “Rainbow Night”, when countless peaceful demonstrators were detained in an outright assault on the freedom of assembly and democracy in Poland. As a lawyer, she was unable to gain access to her clients, who were peaceful demonstrators and yet treated “like hooligans” by the police, and who were treated brutally and kept in unsanitary conditions in the middle of a global pandemic.
Ronald Kraszewski, as an LGBT+ activist, and the initiator of the appeal against police brutality, outlined the motivation behind creating the appeal and the accompanying report. The authors of the appeal hope to use it, and the accompanying report on individual cases of abuse at the hands of the police, as a tool to gain the support of the EU and MEPs in the fight against the Polish authorities’ abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law.
Finally, Bartosz Kramek, who was recently wrongfully arrested in a politically motivated case against him by the Polish authorities, spoke at the event in one of his first appearances since his release from detainment. He outlined his experiences of abuse at the hands of the police, for example, in support of Alexei Navalny in front of the Russian Embassy, where the police started unlawfully mass identifying the crowd of peaceful protestors, and where the officers refused to provide identification of themselves.
In our Q&A session, Eliza Rutynowska offered advice to protestors on the best course of action to avoid police brutality, given the abuse of power demonstrated in Poland. She stated that it is important to allow yourself to be identified by officers, as she and the lawyers she works with have seen many cases of demonstrators ending up in prison simply for refusing to provide ID, and it is important that officers provide ID for themselves, as they have a legal obligation to do so. Bartosz Kramek also brought up the importance of raising awareness to MEPs on these issues and to support protestors through the resources of human rights watchdogs.
- “Appeal against Brutality and Impunity of Police in Poland” with the attached mini report on cases of such brutality throughout Poland, signed by the victims of those attacks and leading organisations defending them
- Testimonies of Angelika Domańska – civil activist & victim of police brutality
- Report: How Hate Kills. Hate Crimes in Poland in 2019