The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) is calling on the police to remove protesters’ online images, pointing out that there are no legal grounds for such a display. The HFHR stressed that images were published in a way that resembles dissemination of wanted notices what may produce a "chilling effect."
Events in the Sejm
The Speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of Parliament, announced on December 16 that radical restrictions will be introduced for parliamentary correspondents. One of the opposition MPs was prevented from continuing a debate and came to the stage with a card that read "#Free media in Sejm."
In response, the Speaker of the Sejm excluded him from further debate. Following this, opposition MPs blocked access to the podium chamber (that lasted for a month). As a result of this, the Marshal decided to move the session and vote on the budget law to another, separate room with no automatic devices to count votes. Moreover, the image from the camera did not cover the entire room and the media were not allowed to enter the proceedings. Opposition MPs have reported problems with the entrance to the meeting.
In an atmosphere of chaos, the budget law was approved. Votes were counted collectively and by hand (without the opportunity to know how individual MPs voted).
Protests in front of Parliament
The announcement led not only to protests by opposition members who alleged the meeting and voting on the budget was not legitimate, but also to the protests of citizens. On December 16, groups of protesters gathered in front of the Parliament with crowds blocking every exit of the Parliament to prevent the ruling party MPs from leaving the building.
Around 3am, when cars with deputies of the ruling party started to leave the Parliament, some of the demonstrators tried to stop them by sitting down in the street and running into oncoming cars. Although the situation was dynamic, the overall course of the assembly was peaceful and no one was arrested.
Wanted by police
More than a month after these incidents, the Warsaw Police Department published on its official website images of more than 20 people who demonstrated on December 16 and 17 near the Sejm building. According to the information provided by the Department, they were involved in "the infringement of the legal order." However, it was not accompanied by any description of their status in criminal proceedings, the purpose of proceedings or a type of alleged breach of legal order.
Reaction of the HFHR
In its letter to the Chief Commissioner of the Warsaw Police Department, the HFHR asked for the removal from the official website images of participants in the public assemblies near the Sejm building on December 16 and 17, 2016. The letter emphasized that neither the Code of Criminal Procedure nor the Police Act provides legal grounds for such a display.
The Foundation stressed that the online publication of protesters’ images may violate several rights and freedoms, including personal interests, the presumption of innocence and right to privacy and indirectly limits the freedom of assemblies.
“A publication of images of people participating in a public demonstration in a way that resembles issuing of wanted notices may have a “freezing effect” on potential protesters. A citizen will reasonably fear that those participating a demonstration against the government may be charged with a criminal offense. This behavior of the police should certainly be considered disproportionate,” says Piotr Kubaszewski, a lawyer for the HFHR.
“Prevent people from expressing their opinions, even if these opinions are different from the ruling party’s views, contravenes the foundations of a democratic state ruled by law,” the HFHR wrote in its letter to the Chief Commissioner of the Warsaw Police Department.