Polish Deputy Justice Minister Resigns Over Troll Campaign Allegations

The campaign was intended to discredit judges who have criticized the government's takeover of the judiciary.

Poland’s deputy minister of justice has resigned after an investigative report uncovered evidence that he had orchestrated a campaign of defamation, harassment and outright lies in an attempt to discredit and embarrass judges who have been critical of the government's takeover of the judiciary.

Łukasz Piebiak resigned on Tuesday after the Polish news outlet Onet published alleged communications via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger between him and the other person he carried out the attacks with, a woman identified only as Emilia.

One of their primary targets was Krystian Markiewicz, a judge and law professor and the head of the Polish judges' association Iustitia. Both Markiewicz and Iustitia have strongly condemned the moves by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) to take direct control over the appointment of all of Poland's judges.

Piebiak and Emilia put together a four-page dossier alleging that Markiewicz had had an affair, gotten his lover pregnant, and then pressured her into getting an abortion. The dossier was sent to more than 2,000 journalists across the county, as well as Iustitia members and even Markiewic's home. Other smears were similarly personal: at least two other judges were accused of having affairs or carrying on sordid domestic lives.

The allegations were picked up by state television outlets last May, a result Piebiak called “great.” He also made clear to Emilia that he was keeping his “boss” informed, which leaves little doubt that Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro — Piebiak’s boss — was aware of the campaign all along.

Emilia is believed to be the former wife of a pro-government judge with close ties to the justice ministry. She published a statement on Wednesday in the liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in which she said she had been “cheated and exploited” and that all the information she disseminated had been provided directly by the Ministry of Justice. She also claimed they had duped her into believing she was doing a great and patriotic duty for Poland.

It's unclear if the political fallout will extended further than Piebiak's resignation, but opposition parties are already calling on Ziobro to step down. The prime minister has demanded an investigation, although this is likely to be headed up by the Ministry of Justice. But regardless of any other heads that may roll, it's quite clear that PiS will not hesitate to use any means to smear and discredit their opponents.