- Title: Polish parliament approves controversial freedom of assembly bill
- Date: 2nd December 2016
- Summary: JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI CROSS MADE OF CANDLES JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI WALKING ONTO LADDER POLISH DEFENCE MINISTER, ANTONI MACIEREWICZ VARIOUS OF KACZYNSKI WARSAW, POLAND (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SITTING
- Embargoed: 17th December 2016 11:19
- Keywords: freedom of assembly Kaczynski ombudsman
- Location: WARSAW, POLAND
- City: WARSAW, POLAND
- Country: Poland
- Reuters ID: LVA0065B6YPMV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party adopted on Friday (December 2) a controversial freedom of assembly bill favouring demonstrations organised by the authorities or churches.
The new law explicitly bans any assemblies from taking place at the same time and place as those organised by the authorities or churches. It also transfers to government officials many powers now enjoyed by local governments on deciding whether to allow a public assembly to go ahead.
Interior minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, defended the new bill, saying it protects citizens' right to protest.
Poland's ombudsman and human rights campaigners have criticised a bill they say will undermine Poles' right to freedom of assembly.
"[I]t will create chance for the government to dissolve any assemblies," Adam Bodnar told Reuters.
"It really limits any possible assemblies, any possible counter demonstrations which will probably going to be directed against the government," said Barbara Grabowska-Moroz, expert of Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
PiS faced mass street protests earlier this year against its actions relating to the constitutional court and a bill that would have almost completely outlawed abortion. The parliament later dropped the abortion bill.
Opposition Nowoczesna party lawmakers who recently attended anti-government protests say new law can be used by the government to block such a demonstrations.
"For us it is obvious that this law will be used against the civic society in Poland. It isn't first time when the PiS (Law and Justice) attacks the independent control. The PiS politics are afraid of independent control, that's the reason that they attack the Constitutional Tribunal, that's the reason that today they cut the budget of Ombudsman office," said Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, opposition lawmaker.
The new bill among others introduces 'cyclical' rallies - a special designation to be granted by a government official to repetitive rallies aimed at celebrating "especially ... important events for Poland's history".
Organisers of such 'cyclical' rallies would have priority in choosing the place and time over other planned gatherings and local authorities would be obliged to ban any non-'cyclical' protests in case of an overlap.
Under former rules, a local authority gives precedence to the organisation that files the first request to stage a rally or demonstration, irrespective of the aims of the gathering.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski's supporters have been organising monthly commemorations of the plane crash that killed his twin brother, Lech Kaczynski.
The late president has gained a cult following amongst some conservative Catholics and his death has been the subject of multiple conspiracy theories and accusations, some supported by Kaczynski or people close to him.
Laws passed by PiS have already made it more difficult for the constitutional court to pass rulings, a move that led the European Commission and European Parliament to say that Poland's democracy and the rule of law were threatened.
PiS, which remains popular among voters, ousted the previous centrist government in an election last year, becoming the first party to hold an absolute majority in parliament in nearly three decades. President Andrzej Duda is a close ally of the party.
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