Thousands of Poles protest new court reforms

Agence France-Presse | Published: 10:20, Nov 25,2017


People hold up a Polish and EU flag and copies of the constitution as they gather in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw under the slogan ‘Free courts, free elections, free Poland’ on November 24, 2017. — AFP photo

Thousands of Poles rallied across the country Friday to denounce the latest version of controversial court reforms pushed by the ruling conservatives, which critics say threaten the rule of law. 

Carrying red-and-white Polish flags and copies of the constitution, demonstrators in Warsaw gathered in front of the presidential palace calling for ‘Free courts, free elections, free Poland.’

‘These laws will put an end to democracy in Poland. They're moving us towards a dictatorship where power will be concentrated in one place,’ one of the protest organisers, Michal Wawrykiewicz, told AFP. 

Earlier this week parliament began to debate new versions of the reforms of the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary that in July sparked massive street protests, concern from the US State Department and threats of EU sanctions.

Polish president Andrzej Duda surprised the country by vetoing the measures at the time, as he is a close ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that pushed the legislation.

Saying that the legislation gave too large of a role to the attorney general, who in Poland is also the justice minister, Duda vowed to table his own versions — which parliament began debating this week. 

Opposition lawmakers expressed their disappointment in the president, with Barbara Dolniak from the Nowoczesna party saying on Wednesday that the legislation ‘continues to go against the constitution’.

Since tabling his versions, Duda also promised PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to add certain amendments, the contents of which remain secret.

The PiS, which began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015, says the reforms are indispensable to combat corruption and streamline the judicial system.

The PiS also proposed a legislative reform to the electoral law this week that it says will reduce fraud, while the opposition has countered that it will instead lead to irregularities at the polls. 

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