July 2023 | Parliament approves amendments to Russian influence committee
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through amendments to controversial legislation passed in May to reduce the powers of the State Committee for the Examination of Russian influence on the internal security of Poland between 2007-2022. The changes were proposed by President Andrzej Duda and supplemented by the lower house, the Sejm. They were subsequently rejected in the opposition-held Senate, citing concerns that the Committee can be used to disadvantage the opposition creating an uneven playing field ahead of the upcoming autumn elections. The Sejm narrowly overturned the Senate’s veto (with 235 votes in favour, and 214 votes against). The amendments are intended to address domestic and international outcry over vulnerability of the body to politicization, for example by specifying that members of the Committee cannot be sitting MPs. Venice Commission experts issued an urgent opinion stating that the Committee, even with the proposed amendments, is not an appropriate approach to countering foreign influence, and lacks guarantees against political misuse.
June 2023 | European Commission launches infringement procedure over Russian interference law
The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland for violations of EU law, following Poland’s adoption of legislation in May 2023 establishing a special committee that could block people found to be influenced by Russia from holding public office. The law was found to “unduly interfere with the democratic process” and violates the principle of democracy enshrined in the Treaty on the EU. The law was also found to conflict with EU data protection laws (lacking safeguards for the protection of sensitive personal data), as well as the principles of legality and non-retroactivity of sanctions, and the rights to effective judicial protection, established in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Mobilising against the new law, hundreds of thousands of Poles protested in Warsaw against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, with smaller protests across Poland.
May 2023 | President Duda approves contentious Russian interference law
President Andrzej Duda signed into law the creation of a new political commission to examine Russian influence on Polish public officials, which has been promulgated by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as a national security measure. The opposition has expressed concerns that the law could be abused by PiS to silence critics and fear it is designed to target opposition leader Donald Tusk. The nine members of the new commission will be elected by the Parliament. The commission’s purview is backward-looking, covering the period 2007-2022, including the years when Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO), the main opposition party and PiS’s major challenger in the upcoming elections in Autumn, was in power. Legal experts have criticised parts of the law as potentially unconstitutional, and these provisions have been referred to the Constitutional Tribunal (widely seen as under PiS influence) for review.
March 2023 | Hate speech conviction given by court in a win for LGBTQIA+ rights
A district court in Gdańsk found Mariusz Dzierżawski, the head of a conservative foundation, guilty of defaming LGBTQIA+ people for the first time, sentencing him to one year of community service, and ordering him to pay a fine and to issue an apology. Dzierżawski’s organisation, Foundation Pro – Right to Life, has run a campaign linking the LGBTQIA+ community to sexual abuse of children, promoting this message using vans, banners, and slogans. It follows a February 2020 decision from a court in Wrocław that found the campaign to be “informative” and “educational”. Poland’s hate crime laws do not currently cover sexual orientation or gender identity, and the ruling represents an important step in condemning hate speech against the LGBTQIA+ community.