The European Parliament’s decision to lift the immunity of four conservative Polish MEPs to allow their prosecution in Poland for inciting hatred against migrants online is “political” and “aimed at revenge”, according to incriminated MEPs.
According to the founder of the Monitoring Centre for Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour (OMZRiK), the four MEPs “committed a racist crime on Polish soil” by sharing or liking a PiS campaign ad from the 2018 local election campaign on social media.
The PiS ad recalled statements made by the then leader of the opposition Civic Platform (PO, EPP) and former foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, about his willingness to accept Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and other local government officials linked to the opposition.
Footage of border crossings and riots was accompanied by the line: “Refugee crisis. Is this what Poland will look like in 2020?”.
The lawmakers that will have their immunity stripped include two MEPs from the Law and Justice (PiS, ECR) party, Beata Mazurek and Tomasz Poręba, and Beata Kempa and Patryk Jaki, both from Sovereign Poland, PiS’ junior coalition partner.
The Parliament’s decision followed a lawsuit brought against the MEPs by Rafał Gaweł, founder of the NGO ‘Monitoring Centre for Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour’. Gaweł was convicted of financial embezzlement in Poland and is currently wanted by the Polish police. He received political asylum in Norway in October 2020.
Read more: Polish MEPs inciting hate against migrants could lose immunity
As previously reported by Euractiv, Gaweł filed a subsidiary charge in November 2021 after the prosecutor’s office twice rejected the charges.
It was only when the Warsaw-Mokotów District Court ruled that the charges were well-founded but that the trial could not begin because of the MEPs’ immunity that the case was transferred to Brussels, where the EU Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) backed Warsaw’s request.
Meanwhile, during a plenary session on Thursday, most MEPs voted to lift the PiS MEPs’ immunity.
Michał Wójcik from the Polish Prime Minister’s Office vehemently commented on the European Parliament’s decision.
“Four Polish right-wing MEPs have lost their immunity because they liked something on Facebook. There is no freedom anymore, I think everyone is aware of that. I don’t rule out the possibility of a modern Spring of Nations sweeping across Europe and wiping out the damage done to us by so-called ‘democrats’,” he wrote on social media.
Kempa declared that she “will always be in favour of freedom of speech”, especially online, and believes the European Parliament has trampled on it.
“I have a message for young people in particular. Be careful because if you like something, share it, and some criminal or your neighbour doesn’t like it, you will suffer the same consequences as we do and have to answer to the court,” she said.
She said the vote on her case was “political” and “aimed at revenge”.
“Freedom of speech and freedom on the internet should remain such overriding values,” she said, echoed by Jaki, who accused the EU of trying to impose a “Communist European State”.
In the court case involving the four MEPs, Gaweł accused 12 politicians of the ruling camp, including incumbent Culture Minister Piotr Gliński and Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak. The Polish parliament, which will have its first sitting after the elections on 13 November, will decide about their immunity once it starts its work.
“I follow the social media profiles of Beata Kempa and Patryk Jaki, and it is often outrageous what they publish, especially regarding refugees,” Left (S&D) MEP Łukasz Kohut told Euractiv.
Expressing satisfaction with the Parliament’s decision, he insisted that the Polish court would finalise punishing MEPs.
“Public figures should not like nor spread racist content. By doing so, they make this content reach a bigger number of people,” he said when asked by Euractiv whether sharing a post on social media is a sufficient offence to revoke MEPs’ immunities.
(Charles Szumski | Euractiv.com | Aleksandra Krzysztoszek, Sonia Otfinowska | Euractiv.pl)
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