Supported by the Rafto Foundation, journalists at the Polish website OKO.press have investigated the persecution of citizens in Poland by means of Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
Elżbieta Podleśna (image above) is a prominent victim of SLAPP in Poland. 26 April 2019 she displayed the image of the Madonna of Częstochowa in a rainbow halo in front of a church where “LGBT” and “gender” had been presented as “sins”, along with pride, greed, addictions etc. On 6 May 2019, at six in the morning she was arrested by the police, her apartment searched, data carriers and laptop confiscated.
On 2 March 2, 2021, the District Court in Płock decided that the Madonna does not offend religious feelings. Podleśna has been subject to more than a dozen civil and criminal cases including "violation of the sanctity of private space" by protesting onn the premises of PiS-controlled state broadcaster TVP, to “damage of property” by application of washable paint to the sidewalk.
The case of Podleśna and other findings have been presented in the report "The authorities vs. the citizens. ‘In the crosshairs’ namely SLAPP Polish-style", conducted from May to December 2021. The project have been supervised by an expert council chaired by Professor Adam Bodnar, Ombudsman and Rafto Laureate 2019.
SLAPP: The use of law to harass citizens
SLAPP is the label of a peculiar form of abuse of a legal system to sabotage democratic discourse and prevent accountability for private or public abuse of power. It makes use of the law to harass citizens even if there is no good reason to expect a ruling in line with the complaints raised against them.
“We followed in the footsteps of activists who may be facing attacks on their own. We found out how ‘soft’ pressure ruins the lives of people who had not previously had any trouble with the law. We noted what public resources are used and how it turns bystanders into accomplices of the authorities. The cost that a country with a relatively low level of public trust, such as Poland, pays for this type of SLAPP is enormous. Many people have indeed withdrawn from public activity. However, those who stayed are becoming more resilient, forming strong bonds with people of similar experiences and a network of mutual support,” OKO.press explains their approach and main findings of their fresh report.
“They torment me, hate me, sue me. I'm scared, but what else should I do?”
Violations of human and civil rights
Since 2015 the Polish authorities have been using legal pressure on a massive scale to discourage citizens from public activity and from holding protests. Civil court actions threatening large amounts in penalties or reparations are employed. The cases are usually petty or entirely groundless, pursued though prolonged and exhausting proceedings, and supplemented with pressure by the police and hate campaigns from pro-government media, offline and online.
The authorities are using these means to stop activists from expressing their views and remove important topics such as the deteriorations of rule of law and violation of women’s and LGBT+ rights from public debate.
With the increasing capture of the courts, prosecution, and the media by the PiS government, the disrespect for rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and in the absence so far of decisive action by of the European Commission to seek effective penalties for such disrespect, the Rafto Foundation fears we must expect these violations of human and civil rights in Poland to increase.