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HFHR comments on Justice Ministry’s announced lawsuit against Kraków’s University professors

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights strongly protests against the Ministry of Justice’s plans to bring lawsuits against academics from the Jagiellonian University. The lawsuits are, as the Ministry has said, a response to untrue statements expressed in a white paper on a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code and other laws.

According to the HFHR, any such legal action, if taken by the Ministry, would constitute an unprecedented infringement of the right to freedom of scientific activity and freedom of expression. It could also have a chilling effect, preventing future public debate on important pieces of the universally applicable legislation.

We consider it unacceptable that a claim should be brought against a scientific statement, which, by its nature, is subjective in nature and should not be at all considered in terms of truth or falsehood. We also believe that arguments contained in a scientific statement should not be proved or disproved in a court of law. It should also be emphasised that both Polish courts and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that freedom of expression in the scientific context should be afforded special protection (a per, e.g. ECtHR judgment of 8 June 2010, Sapan v. Turkey, application no. 44102/04). Moreover, as we read in Recommendation 1762 (2006) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “academic … freedom of expression and of action, freedom to disseminate information and freedom to conduct research” should be subject to no restrictions, as “history has proven that violations of academic freedom and university autonomy have always resulted in intellectual relapse, and consequently in social and economic stagnation”.

In the light of the failure to establish the Criminal Law Codification Commission, presenting informed opinions on legal acts, and in particular on amendments to the Criminal Code, is not only a right but also a moral obligation of the academia. Such efforts should, therefore, be welcomed with gratitude by public officials, as they allow for the inclusion of different points of view and the adoption of better legislation. On the other hand, by responding to a critical opinion of a legislative proposal with a threat of a lawsuit against the authors of the opinion, the Ministry of Justice dangerously departs from the standards of a democratic state.

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