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HFHR responds to arrests of Greenpeace activists

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights expresses its concern over the behaviour of police officers during the arrests of Greenpeace activists on 14 May 2019. As media reports suggest, this case could involve a possible excess of police powers.

Activists’ account of events

On 14 May 2019, 46 activists were arrested during a Greenpeace protest outside the party headquarters of the Civic Platform and Law and Justice. The activists were apprehended as they attempted to access the premises to place banners reading “Poland without coal 2030”. The protesters wanted to draw the attention of the two largest political parties to the fact that both parties’ agendas failed to properly address the climate crisis.

According to media reports, the activists were taken to the Third District Police Station in Warsaw at Opaczewska Street and the First District Police Station at Wilcza Street. Some of the arrestees were reportedly released only two days after being taken to custody, i.e. on 16 May 2019. All of them were charged with trespassing and the illegal display of advertisements, namely the offence under Article 193 of the Criminal Code and a petty offence under Article 63a of the Administrative Offences Code, respectively.

According to the arrestees, several activists were forced to wear handcuffs for a period of 12 hours, and some remained handcuffed even while using a toilet at the police station. According to Greenpeace, the arrested activists did not resist, and yet they were subjected to direct coercive measures. In their opinion, these measures were “inappropriate, given the peaceful nature of the protest conducted to advance an important social purpose”. Reportedly, the arrestees received little food and beverages as they were held at the police station.

HFHR intervenes

In response to the situation, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights wrote to the Chief Commissioner of the Police asking him to determine how the described events unfolded and to respond to the situation. In its letter, the HFHR invoked the guarantees stemming from Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the prohibition of torture.

“Article 3 requires that human beings must not be subjected to treatment contrary to the nature of human dignity, and, in particular, any treatment causing physical and/or mental suffering, which can generally be described as the prohibition of maltreatment”, says Justyna Jezierska, member of HFHR legal team.

“We must remember that the state has an absolute obligation to comprehensively investigate every case in which public officials might have violated the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment”, emphasises Piotr Kubaszewski, Coordinator of the HFHR Legal Intervention Programme.

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