IBAHRI calls on Poland to drop charges against law professor Wojciech Sadurski
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the prosecution of law professor Wojciech Sadurski by the Republic of Poland’s Government, and calls for charges to be dropped.
Mr Sadurski, an expert in constitutional law and a highly respected professor at Sydney and Warsaw universities, often speaks out against government crackdowns on human rights and judicial independence in Poland. He reportedly called Poland’s ruling party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), ‘an organised criminal group’ and described the Polish public broadcaster TVP as a ‘Goebbelsian media company’, which organised a smear campaign that led to the assassination, in 2019, of the Mayor of Gdansk Pawel Adamowicz – a critic of the PiS.
In response to Professor Sadurski’s comments, the PiS filed a civil defamation suit and TVP – widely reported as a state-controlled entity – brought a criminal defamation suit and a civil defamation suit against him. If convicted under Poland’s Criminal Code, he faces up to 12 months in jail or a fine.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996 – 2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG,commented: 'Poland’s citizens, including Professor Sadurski, must always have the ability to criticise the government without fear of retribution or imprisonment. The lawsuits brought against him raise significant alarm. The IBAHRI urges the Polish authorities to drop these defamation charges. Furthermore, Article 212 of the Polish Criminal Code, under which defamation of a person, group of people, institution, legal person or business entity is punishable by a fine or the restriction of liberty, should be altogether repealed. Freedom of expression is a human right and criminal defamation laws are inconsistent with international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights.’
Mr Kirby AC CMG added: ‘Professor Sadurski is widely known and respected in Australia, his native Poland and other European countries. He is honoured as a fine scholar and responsible jurist. People far from Poland are shocked by the inexcusable and disproportional proceedings taken against him for exercising rights belonging to him as a Polish citizen and essential to his functions as a distinguished lecturer in law.’In the civil defamation cases, PiS and TVP are demanding:
- a public apology in the form of an expensive advertisement in a daily newspaper;
- an injunction that Professor Sadurski refrain from any statements that imply the activities of the PiS may be in any way compared to criminal activities;
- a payment of PLN 20,000 [EUR 4600] and PLN 10,000 [EUR 2300] to nominated charities; and
- Professor Sadurski pay all costs associated with the cases.
Professor Sadurski is reported to have stated that these punishments exceed his financial resources.
IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, stated: ‘The actions of the PiS and TVP clearly constitute persecution of Professor Sadurski. Seeking to supress freedom of speech by bringing multiple defamation cases against him only highlights the ongoing harassment to the international community. When put into context of the widespread harassment of lawyers and judges, the IBAHRI’s concern is heightened. It is completely unacceptable that hundreds of judges and lawyers currently face threats of disciplinary proceedings in contravention to international standards on the protection of the legal profession, including those contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. It is reprehensible that the rule of law is being so blatantly attacked.’
Political observers note that the government crackdown on judicial independence has been so successful that officials maintain full control of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Office of the Prosecutor General and the National Council of the Judiciary.
On 18 June 2020, the Warsaw Provincial Court dismissised the civil defamation suit against Mr Sadurski. An appeal is expected. The trial for the suits brought by TVP will commence on 2 October 2020.
Notes to the Editor
View related items on the IBAHRI’s work in Poland:
- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
- The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
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