Activists risk jail for poster campaign
On 8 June around 8.30 pm, the house of one of the activists, Anna, a well-known activist in Warsaw, was searched by police. Anna’s teenage daughter and parents were in the house during the search. Her old laptop, phones and a tablet were confiscated. Around midnight, she was transferred in handcuffs to the police station where she remained for the next 41 hours. The police only interrogated her on 10 June and denied her access to her lawyer, who considers the entire treatment a form of harassment. See a public statement issued following her arrest here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur37/2498/2020/en/.
Anna is known to Amnesty International as an outspoken human rights defender who has been taking part in protests in Poland since 2016. She has stood up in defence of women’s rights and helped develop a legal aid network for protesters in Poland.
The police justified its action arguing that the activist was detained to ensure that she would not destroy evidence related to an open investigation into the replacement of bus advertisements with posters. The posters alleged that the government manipulated statistics about COVID-19. The posters also depicted the Minister of Healthcare, Łukasz Szumowski, dressed as a Knight of Malta holding the sign “Gospel of Łukasz Sz.”, and listed allegations against him. However, the advertisements were replaced on 29 and 30 May and the police action, 10 days later, would appear to make the argument about protecting evidence less persuasive.
On 9 June, a second activist was arrested in relation to the same poster campaign and placed in detention. He was released after 20 hours of police custody. Charges of ‘theft and burglary’ were pressed against both activists under article 279.1 of the Criminal Code. They risk from one to 10 years in prison, if convicted. See here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/poland-activists-at-risk…
The right to freedom of expression protects the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, including commentary on public affairs, discussion of human rights, and criticism of the authorities.
The authorities are claiming that a damage to property of the value of 100 Euros was inflicted, however the damage is immaterial to the charges of ‘theft and burglary’ brought against the two activists. Amnesty International is concerned that the way the two activists appear to be targeted with baseless charges is consistent with a pattern of harassment of protesters and activists documented by the organization since 2017 in Poland.
The actions of the Polish authorities may result in a chilling effect on the exercise of right to freedom of expression in Poland and create additional barriers to the work of human rights defenders in the country. Both activists are currently considering a complaint for unlawful detention.
The content of this urgent action reflects the wishes of the two activists in relation to the disclosure of their identity and right to privacy.