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Critic of Poland's ruling party PiS slams "politically motivated" libel cases

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PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński who filed a law suit against Sadurski.
PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński who filed a law suit against Sadurski. -
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A fierce critic of the Polish government, who is facing legal challenges from the country’s ruling party, has spoken out against what he believes are “politically motivated” efforts to silence him.

Wojciech Sadurski, a law professor at the Universities of Sydney and Warsaw, is fighting a criminal case and two civil suits for defamation after he posted tweets criticising the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party and the Polish public broadcaster, TVP.

Commenting on the pending cases, Sadurski said: “They are totally and unambiguously politically motivated. Further, I believe that they are coordinated and syncronised.”

He added: “I have been a critic of this PiS government since its inception in 2015 and also a critic of the public television for quite some time. The fact that these legal actions against me come more or less around the same time in the first month of this year suggests to me that it is some kind of strategy.”

The president of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, launched legal proceedings against Sadurski on 21 January following comments the academic made on Twitter about the party in the days prior to Poland’s Independence March in November 2018.

In a lawsuit filed at the Warsaw District Court, Kaczyński accused Sadurski of “comparing a legally acting political party to an organized criminal group is one of heaviest accusation aimed at discrediting, defaming and attributing characteristics considered generally as dishonourable."

TVP filed a separate criminal case on 21 January and a further civil suit on 20 March after Sadurski posted a tweet about the publicly-funded television station in the wake of the murder of Gdansk mayor, Paweł Adamowicz.

Adamowicz, an independent mayor who was also critical of PiS, was stabbed on stage at an annual charity event on 13 January. He later died from his injuries.

In a statement issued on 21 January, TVP said: "Lawsuits or an indictment based on the Criminal Code will be made against persons who absurdly stated that there was a link between content published by TVP and the death of Mr. Paweł Adamowicz. In the first group of such people, there are Krzysztof Skiba, Wojciech Czuchnowski, Adam Bodnar and Wojciech Sadurski.”

Neither PiS and TVP had responded to Euronews’ requests for comment at the time of publication.

If Sadurski loses both civil cases, he will face fines of 20,000 PLN (€4,600) per case to be made in the form of charitable donations as well as footing all legal costs. TVP is also seeking a public apology to be published as an advert on Onet, one of the most used Polish web portals.

Criminal defamation cases are rare in Poland but if successfully prosecuted in the third trial, he could be handed either a large punitive fine, community service or potentially a prison sentence of up to two years.

“I believe that these days, the Polish regime has decided that it will use criminal and civil sanctions against its critics,” Sadurski continued. “I am not the only target. I am the only individual target who faces three defamation cases, that’s for sure.”

Kaczyński also filed a criminal libel complaint against journalists Wojciech Czuchnowski and Iwona Szpala in February after they published reports in Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish daily newspaper, alleging corruption involving the PiS leader in a deal to build a skyscraper in Warsaw.

“It marks a change of strategy,” Sadurski said. “So far, they have only used the public media to vilify us and to basically depict us as the enemies of the nation, traitors etc. Now they have moved one step further and used legal instruments against critics.”

Sadurski has been particularly outspoken over PiS’ attempts to overhaul the Polish judiciary, a move widely considered by EU leaders as an attempt to weaken the rule of law in the country.

The right-wing government’s push to reform the justice system has resulted in Poland being sanctioned three times by Brussels since 2017. Under its latest proposals, judges would be subject to disciplinary investigation if their rulings were considered inappropriate.

The EU also slapped Poland with an injunction in 2018 to stop changes to the Supreme Court which would have lowered the retirement age of justices from 70 to 65, effectively forcing over 20 judges out of their jobs and allowing the government to select their replacements.

On 6 May, scholars from around the world - including from the University of Oxford, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Yale Law School - published an open letter urging the legal cases against Sadurski to be dropped and to voice their support for “the right of academics across the European Union to freely speak out and to criticize political leaders.” It now has over 650 signatories.

In response to the letter, Sadurski said: “I definitely will not apologise. I will not accept any guilt. That is why this huge, immense support I had not anticipated in my wildest dreams is really important to me.”