Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature and the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems, and intentional offense of religious feelings.
Violence and Harassment: On February 14, the Katowice regional prosecutor’s office discontinued its investigation into Piotr Wacowski, a cameraman for private television news channel TVN, who was suspected of propagating fascism. The case was related to an investigative report by the journalist showing members of the Pride and Modernity Association dressed in Nazi uniforms and celebrating Hitler’s birthday in 2017. The prosecutor’s office stated it could find no evidence Wacowski had committed a crime.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. Nevertheless, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or the promotion of views contrary to law, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.”
Critics alleged persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation by print and broadcast journalists is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering the president, members of parliament, government ministers and other public officials, the Polish nation, foreign heads of state and ambassadors, private entities and persons, as well as insult or destruction of the national emblem, the flag, and other state symbols. Defamation outside the media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced only fines or imprisonment of less than one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president is three years’ imprisonment.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association of Polish Journalists reported that journalists convicted of defamation had never received the maximum penalty. According to the association, however, the criminal defamation law may have a chilling effect on journalists, especially in local media, since local authorities may use the law against journalists. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2018, the most recent data available, courts convicted one person of insulting the president and three persons for insulting constitutional organs of the government. In 2018 the courts fined two persons for public defamation through media using the public prosecution procedure, when a private person presses criminal charges against another person. In 2018 there were 116 convictions for criminal defamation through media using the private prosecution procedure.
On November 26, the Katowice District Prosecutor’s Office discontinued its prosecutorial investigation into a historian, stemming from a 2015 newspaper interview where the historian alleged that Poles killed more Jews than Nazis in occupied Poland during World War II. The Katowice District Prosecutor’s Office stated it was not its role to settle issues of an historical nature.
On February 12, the Lodz District Court fined investigative reporter Wojciech Biedron 3,000 zloty ($762) on charges of public insult of a judge for inaccurately reporting that a court had initiated disciplinary proceedings against the judge. Several journalists criticized the judgment as overly harsh and disproportionate to the offense.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications or email without appropriate legal authority. The 2016 antiterrorism law authorizes the ABW to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes; shut down telecommunications networks when there is a terrorist threat; and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals for up to three months without a court order. During the year there were no reports by media or NGO sources that the ABW blocked websites.
The law against defamation applies to the internet as well.
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The 2015 antiterrorism law permits restrictions on public assemblies in situations of elevated terrorist threats. During the year there were no cases of the prohibition of a public assembly due to an elevated terrorist threat.
In December the Warsaw District Prosecutor’s Office decided to discontinue its investigation into an attack on counterdemonstrators during the November 2017 Independence March. The office stated that continuing the case was not in the public interest and that it was unable to identify the perpetrators of the attack. On February 13, the Warsaw Regional Court struck down an earlier decision by the Warsaw District Prosecutor’s Office to discontinue the investigation and ordered the office to reopen the case. The Prosecutor’s Office had previously asserted the attackers’ intention was to show dissatisfaction and not to physically harm the 14 counterdemonstrators they confronted.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In addition to guarded centers for foreigners, the government operated 11 open centers for asylum seekers with an aggregate capacity of approximately 2,000 persons in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Some incidents of gender-based violence in the centers for asylum seekers occurred, but UNHCR reported that local response teams involving doctors, psychologists, police, and social workers addressed these cases. UNHCR reported no major or persistent problems with abuse in the centers.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
On April 17, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a Warsaw-based NGO, published a report criticizing the government for restricting access to the asylum procedure. The report covered the situation on the country’s eastern border between 2015 and 2019 and stated the Border Guard at times arbitrarily refused the right to submit an application for international protection at border crossing stations.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The EU’s Dublin III Regulation, to which the country is subject, recognizes all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. The regulation also authorizes the governments of EU member states to return asylum seekers to the countries where they first entered the EU. The law permits denial of refugee status based on safe country of origin or safe country of transit but includes provisions that allow authorities to consider the protection needs of individuals in exceptional cases.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities placed some asylum seekers in guarded centers for foreigners while they awaited deportation or decisions on their asylum applications. Border guards may place an individual in a guarded center only by court order. The law prohibits the placement of unaccompanied minors younger than 15 in guarded centers. Border guards typically sought to confine foreigners who attempted to cross the border illegally, lacked identity documents, or committed a crime during their stay in the country.
Employment: Asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the first six months of the asylum procedure. If the asylum procedure lasts longer than six months, they may work until the asylum decision is final.
Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers faced language and cultural barriers and had limited access to higher education. Children in centers for asylum seekers had free access to public education, but those placed with relatives in guarded centers for foreigners did not.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.
The law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality. The UNHCR report noted, however, that the government’s lack of a formal procedure of identifying stateless persons led to protection gaps and exposed stateless persons to many negative consequences, including detention.
The UNHCR report noted several problems resulting from stateless status, including the inability to undertake legal employment or to access social welfare and health care. Stateless persons often lack identity documents, which limits their ability to perform many legal actions, such as opening a bank account or entering into a marriage. According to UNHCR, such problems made this group particularly vulnerable to poverty and marginalization.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and criminal prosecutions for official corruption occurred. There were reports of corruption that resulted in legal action.
On January 11, the Przemysl Regional Court sentenced former head of Podkarpackie Province Miroslaw Karapyta to four years in prison for rape and corruption. The court found him guilty of nine charges, including two cases of attempted rape, accepting a personal favor in the form of sexual intercourse, and accepting expensive gifts in return for favors. Karapyta pleaded not guilty and appealed the court’s ruling.
On January 28, the CBA charged the former defense ministry’s spokesperson and a former member of the parliament with exceeding their authority and improperly managing military contracts in order to obtain financial benefits worth more than 90,000 zloty ($22,900).
On March 18, a regional court in Tarnow found the former Rzeszow appellate prosecutor guilty of accepting bribes and abuse of power and sentenced her to a six-year prison term. The verdict was subject to appeal.
Financial Disclosure: Various laws oblige elected and appointed public officials to submit financial statements concerning their financial assets, real property, stocks, and bonds. According to the NGO Stefan Batory Foundation, the CBA was able to screen less than 1 percent of all financial disclosure statements filed by politicians and senior officials. With the exception of certain situations provided for by law, the regulations protect information included in financial statements as “restricted access” information that may be made public only with the written permission of the provider.
After completing an audit of Supreme Audit Board head Marian Banas’ required financial declarations, on November 29, the CBA notified the Prosecutor’s Office of potential crimes committed by Banas related to false property declarations, concealing a property’s actual status, and undocumented sources of income. On December 3, the regional prosecutor’s office in Bialystok opened an investigation. The prime minister and other leaders of the ruling Law and Justice Party called on Banas to resign but, at year’s end, he had not resigned. Banas denied the allegations and sued the media outlet that uncovered the reported improprieties for defamation.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.
The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents if the perpetrator was a police officer or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.
Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: A government ombudsperson for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsperson’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. The government continued its public awareness campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although courts may grant permission for girls as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by three months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and alleged pedophiles.
According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including Jewish cemeteries and the wall of the former Jewish ghetto in Krakow, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on radio and social media. Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding their physical safety and security.
On April 19, residents of the town of Pruchnik enacted an anti-Semitic ritual that involved hanging, burning, and beating an effigy of Judas, who was dressed to look like an Orthodox Jew. On April 22, the Roman Catholic Church condemned the ritual, and the then minister of the interior and administration called the ritual “idiotic, pseudoreligious chutzpah.” On May 14, the local prosecutor’s office stated it would not open an investigation into the incident, describing it as a hundred-year-old local tradition, rather than an incitement of hatred against Jews.
On May 4, the Oswiecim Regional Court sentenced Piotr Rybak to one year of community service for incitement to hatred on nationality grounds. On January 27, Rybak led a protest of approximately 200 far-right nationalists at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration and extermination camp. During the demonstration, Rybak claimed the International Holocaust Remembrance Day glorified Jewish victims and disregarded the deaths of non-Jewish Poles, saying, “It’s time to fight against Jews and free Poland from them!”
On July 1, the Wodzislaw Slaski Regional Court began a trial for six persons accused of publicly promoting Nazism in 2017 by organizing a celebration of Hitler’s birthday in a forest, donning Wehrmacht uniforms and burning a swastika. The incident was secretly filmed and later broadcast by undercover television journalists. The main organizer of the event, a member of the neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity association, pleaded not guilty, claiming the event was private. On August 7, in a separate case, the Gliwice Regional Court decided to dissolve Pride and Modernity, stating that the event was tantamount to approval or even affirmation of Hitler and Nazism. The ruling was not final.
On July 21, unknown perpetrators defaced a recently renovated wall around the Jewish cemetery in the city of Tarnow with an anti-Semitic inscription. Tarnow mayor Roman Ciepiela immediately condemned the incident and declared the city would pay for the removal of the inscription.
In September media reported anti-Semitic posters were hung at Warsaw bus stops with the slogans “Beware of parasites,” “Stop the [restitution] claim mafia,” and “Stop Jewish occupation.” On September 26, the Warsaw mayor’s office referred the case to the Warsaw prosecutor’s office.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the government effectively enforced these provisions, there were reports of some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.
The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible. On July 19, the parliament adopted an accessibility law that entered into force on September 19. The law introduced new obligations for public institutions regarding building, digital, and information access for persons with special needs.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. On February 2, police detained a 31-year-old man accused of a January 31 racist attack against two individuals in Krakow’s city center. The man argued with his victims using racist language and threatened them with a knife. He was charged with making threats and racist insults and extreme disrespect for public order.
On February 19, the Wroclaw District Court sentenced a 39-year-old man to 10 months of community service and fined him 500 zloty ($127) for spitting on a Cuban woman in Wroclaw in July 2018. Prosecutors charged him with violating bodily integrity and making racially motivated public insults.
On May 29, police charged two men with insulting two Indian citizens on February 4. The incident took place on a public bus, when the two men verbally attacked the victims and hit one of them. On June 19, police detained a third man involved in the attack.
On July 7, an unknown man physically and verbally attacked an Indian student of Gdansk Technical University who was riding on a train in the Gdansk area. The man approached the student, hit him in the face, and shouted offensive remarks at him. Police have not found the perpetrator.
On August 9, the Rzeszow local prosecutor’s office pressed charges against a 34-year-old man for attacking a 22-year-old Polish Muslim woman and her three-month-old baby in Rzeszow. The man was charged with making threats and offending the woman on the grounds of religious affiliation. On August 2, the attack took place as the woman was pushing her baby in a stroller along the river. The man verbally abused her and tried to throw the stroller with her baby into the river. He also made death threats against the woman and shouted, “heil Hitler” and “white power.”
On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp (ONR) and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. March organizer Robert Bakiewicz said in a speech preceding the march that “Jews want to plunder our homeland,” referring to calls for broad, expedited private property restitution. While there were no reports of violence, participants chanted slogans such as “Great Catholic Poland” and “This is Poland, not Israel.” A small number of participants displayed a white supremacist version of the Celtic cross.
On November 11, Wroclaw city officials shut down a far-right supported Independence March after participants ignored multiple warnings from police to stop anti-Semitic chants and burning flares. Some participants refused to disperse and threw flares, bottles, and rocks at police, who responded by using water cannons and tear gas in an attempt to control the crowd. A spokesperson for the Wroclaw police said three police officers and two bystanders were injured, and 14 persons were detained.
On November 10, the ABW arrested two persons in Warsaw and Szczecin and accused them of planning to carry out attacks, using firearms and explosives, against Muslims living in the country. The ABW stated the suspects were planning their attacks using the 2011 Norway terrorist attacks and the 2019 New Zealand terrorist attack as models.
Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.
Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.
During the year the government allocated 11.1 million zloty ($2.82 million) for programs to support Roma communities, including for educational programs. The Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.
The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On March 6, media reported that passengers in an Uber vehicle in Warsaw physically and verbally attacked their Ukrainian driver while using vulgar language to refer to his nationality after he refused their request to play music on his radio.
On July 12, unknown perpetrators threw a bottle with unidentified liquid into an apartment rented by three Ukrainian men in Warsaw. Anti-Ukrainian slogans were also placed on walls next to the apartment.
On November 25, prosecutors launched an investigation regarding the insult of a person on grounds of national origin after a woman in Bialystok uploaded a YouTube video in which she verbally attacked a Ukrainian woman on a train, claiming that she was taking up too much space.
While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The government plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against LGBTI individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The ombudsperson also continued to work on LGBTI human rights cases.
On October 8, the ombudsman issued a statement in which he expressed concern regarding growing discrimination, hatred, and verbal and physical aggression against LGBTI persons.
Several pride marches were met with violent protests. On April 13, approximately 400 participants attended the country’s first march of the year in Gniezno, where around 500 counterdemonstrators threw bottles, eggs, and other objects at police and shouted homophobic slogans.
On July 20, there were violent protests against an equality march in the town of Bialystok where participants were attacked by counterdemonstrators who tried to block the march. The counterprotesters verbally abused the participants and threw various objects at them. Minister of Interior and Administration Elzbieta Witek criticized “hooligan behavior that infringes the rights of others” and “hinders the duties of police,” whose job it is to “ensure security regardless of the slogans or beliefs proclaimed by citizens.” On July 23, Prime Minister Morawiecki sharply condemned violence against marchers at the event.
On July 25, Przemyslaw Witkowski, a journalist working for a left-wing periodical, was beaten in Wroclaw after he openly criticized anti-LGBTI graffiti he saw on a wall near one of the city’s bridges. On July 30, police apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with causing damage to health and making threats connected to political affiliation. On November 18, the man was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison and a 5,000 zloty ($1,290) fine. The verdict was subject to appeal.
On September 28, police used water cannons and tear gas to control counterdemonstrations during Lublin’s second annual equality march. Police detained 38 persons who attempted to disrupt the march, including a married couple who brought explosive materials to the march. The man and woman were charged with illegal production and possession of explosive devices and could face up to eight years in prison, if convicted.
Politicians from multiple political parties made statements attacking LGBTI “ideology.” For example, in August PiS party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the country must defend itself from “the people in our country who want to encroach on our families, our schools, our lives…to take away our culture and freedom…to undermine what is normal.”
During the year more than 30 local governments around the country adopted anti-LGBTI declarations, nonbinding documents that mainly focused on preventing “LGBTI ideology in schools.” LGBTI NGOs pointed out that those resolutions may have a chilling effect on institutions subordinate to local governments and may increase the number of hate crimes. On December 10, the ombudsman filed five suits with provincial administrative courts against some of the local governments that had adopted anti-LGBTI declarations, arguing the declarations discriminated against LGBTI persons and violated their human rights.