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NGOs hold public hearing on Anti-Terror Act

The HFHR, the University of Warsaw, the Panoptykon Foundation, Amnesty International and the ePaństwo Foundation, with the thematic and research support from the Stefan Batory Foundation and the Unit for Social Innovation and Research “Shipyard”, have organised a Citizens’ Public Hearing on the government’s draft law on anti-terrorist activities. The hearing took place on 6 June 2016 at the University of Warsaw. An impressive number of 40 speakers registered to take the floor.
While presenting the Foundation’s position on the matter, the lawyer Marcin Wolny said that the proposed act is a de facto state of emergency law rather than an antiterrorism law because it seeks to impose several major restrictions on civil freedoms. “For the fake sense of security we pay with the hard currency of rights and freedoms”, judged Mr Wolny. He also emphasised that the application of special restrictions against foreigners and the storing of their data for an unlimited duration may soon result in a situation in which Polish nationals are targeted by harsher laws too.

“This is a law that opens the gates for substantial violations of rights and freedoms”, claimed Amnesty International’s Draginja Nadażdin. She joined many other speakers in noting that the proposed law fails to introduce a sufficiently robust framework of supervision over secret services and gives the head of the Internal Security Agency overly extensive decision-making authority.

Many speakers stressed that the law was discriminatory and established a double standard for nationals and foreigners. Piotr Niemczyk, an expert of the Sejm Intelligence Committee, has even claimed that the bill was racist in character. “Because of the provisions that enable certain treatment of foreigners, the new law will damage Poland’s international reputation”, he said. Mr Niemczyk also said that the proposed law did not introduce a mechanism for coordinating efforts of different services.

Many complaints were formulated against the definition of terrorist events. Ewa Kulik-Bielińska from the Stefan Batory Foundation argued that the provision that enabled defining such events in a regulation rather than in the act itself, means that the definition can be easily modified, which may result in expanding restrictions.

Another speaker from the Stefan Batory Foundation, Grażyna Kopińska, touched upon an equally interesting aspect of the matter. She criticised the manner in which the bill was developed. It was not entered to the government’s working agenda. No draft premises of the law or a summary describing its international perspective have been presented. There were no public consultations on the bill. It was registered as an instrument processed in the fast-track mode, thus excluded from the intradepartmental consultation process.

The participants in the debate also argued that the anti-terror act is not designed to address the challenges related with the organisation of the World Youth Day or the NATO Summit, because there is not enough time for implementing all its procedures before those events start. Even if this would be the case, the proposed law is to remain in force thereafter.

An application for holding a proper public hearing at the stage of parliamentary works was rejected at a session of the Sejm’s Administration and Internal Affairs Committee. This is why a citizens’ public hearing was organised in an attempt to create a forum for the presentation of voices and positions of different stakeholders.

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