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Police target Opposition politicians and NGO activists

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights issued a statement, commenting on police activities targeting representatives of non-governmental organisations and opposition parties during recent social protests.

According to media reports, during the anti-government rally near the parliamentary grounds on 21 July, the police reportedly mounted surveillance of an opposition politician and two NGO activists.

HFHR notes that this was yet another example of worrisome police activities observed over recent months and a possible breach of individuals’ rights and freedoms such as the right to privacy or freedom of speech in the context of freedom of assembly (To find out more about this topic, read our articles “HFHR protests against online publication of Sejm protesters’ images on Police website” or “Journalists or police officers? HFHR responds to police action during football match”).

Police target NGO activists

The police have officially admitted that the surveillance of W. Kinasiewicz and T. Jakrzewski, activists of the Citizens of the Republic of Poland movement, was a response to the activists’ own declarations that “their actions may result in a breach of the legal order”.

According to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, in a democratic state, civil society organisations perform many roles, including that of the “public watchdog”. Because of this, they should receive special protective guarantees (see, for instance, TASZ v. Hungary).

Furthermore, in accordance with a 2016 resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the strengthening of protection and role of human rights defenders, state bodies are obliged to ensure such organisations a working environment in which public watchdogs can freely pursue their statutory goals, and in particular should refrain from placing “the third sector” entities under unlawful surveillance.

Police target opposition figures

The police have provided different explanations for surveillance of different persons. In the case of Sejm deputy R. Petru, the alleged purpose of surveillance was to protect Mr Petru’s personal safety. However, the police did not inform if the parliamentarian had been informed about or asked for such “protection”.

“The fact of being under surveillance during a protest rally does not make protesters or politicians feeling safer. Instead, it may result in a decision to cease some aspects of one’s public activity. This, in turn, directly disturbs (…) political processes ongoing in a free democratic state”, reads HFHR’s statement.

Legal aid

In its statement, the HFHR called for “caution in applying any policing methods that may excessively interfere with activities taken by members of the opposition and civil society activists”. The HFHR also expressed its willingness to provide legal assistance to persons whose rights have been violated by police surveillance. Pursuant to the Police Act, a complaint about the way in which police surveillance is conducted can be submitted to a local prosecutor.

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