Justice ministry critical of Commissioner for Human Rights

The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic called on Polish government to free a LGBT activist whose arrest has been sanctioned by a court. The call has been criticized by the Justice Ministry in Warsaw as being a call on the government to interfere with the work of the judiciary.

In her social media post Ms Mijatovic demanded for Michał Sz., who calls himself “Margot”, to be released immediately from the arrest for blocking a van that was engaged in promoting hate speech against LGBT people and for hanging rainbow flags on statues in Warsaw. “2 months incarceration is a very bad sign for freedom of speech and LGBT rights in Poland” commented the Council of Europe official.

Deputy Justice Minister Michał Wójcik criticized Ms Mijatovic for a “brutal intervention in Poland’s legal order”. Speaking on public radio Mr Wójcik reminded listeners that the arrest had been sanctioned by an independent judge on the basis of presented evidence. “You cannot argue that independent courts are a fundament of the state and then disregard their verdicts”, he asserted.

A court last Friday sided with the public prosecutor and decided that Michał Sz. be incarcerated for two months pending his trial. Michał Sz has been charged with assault and damage to property. A video of the incident which consisted of him attacking a driver of a van belonging to a pro-life organizations provides evidence of the crimes having been committed.

The police carried out the arrest warrant but were met with groups of LGBT protesters who tried to prevent the arrest. The police took action against the protesters detaining and charging 48 individuals with public order offences.

Comment:

It is indeed curious that a Council of Europe official should call for the freeing of an activist without checking the facts. Ms Mijatovic’s post is a misrepresentation of the facts.

“Margot” was not arrested for blocking a van but for causing the van extensive damage and for assaulting the driver. And “Margot” was not arrested over his/her participation in any veiling of monuments. That is a separate matter totally unrelated to the arrest warrant.

It is also highly puzzling to see an official who has in the past criticized Poland on rule of law compliance to demand that the government now disregard a court order and free an individual who has been arrested on the basis of a decision of the court. On what basis would such an action be?

There is a debate to be had over the way that arrest warrants for months of detention of persons charged with crimes are used in Poland. They may be being used too liberally by both the public prosecutors and the courts. But ad hoc actions such as freeing a prominent political activist will not bring us any closer to resolving the issue. There is no reason why political activists should be treated any differently from anyone else if they commit offences such as assault or damage to property.


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