The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee (JURI) will issue its recommendation on Tuesday morning on whether four Polish MEPs accused of inciting hatred against migrants should be stripped of their immunity, as the accused insist the charges are an attack on freedom of speech.
The plenary will then vote on the recommendation later this week, deciding whether Beata Mazurek and Tomasz Poręba – from Poland’s ruling party PiS – and Beata Kempa and Patryk Jaki- part of PiS’ junior coalition partner ‘Suwerenna Polska’- will have their immunity lifted.
They are accused of “inciting hatred based on national, ethnic, racial and religious differences” for disseminating a video ahead of the 2018 local elections in Poland, according to the Polish indictment.
The video linked “enclaves of Muslim refugees” with sexual assaults and violent attacks while suggesting that a power takeover by the opposition party Civic Coalition would lead to an influx of migrants, making residents “afraid to go out on the streets after dark”.
“Will we feel safe if the Civic Coalition implements this?” – the narrator asked at the end, adding that it would be better to choose a “safe local government”, Euractiv reported.
Rafał Gaweł, founder of the Polish NGO ‘Center for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour’, submitted a subsidiary indictment in November 2021 after the prosecutor’s office dismissed the accusations twice.
This subsidiary indictment led to the EU Parliament starting the procedure to lift the MEPs’ parliamentary immunity in February 2023.
“Thanks to the fact that I am a political refugee, I was recognised by the court as a party aggrieved by the action of the perpetrators, which, after a long court battle, allowed me to file a subsidiary bill of indictment to prosecute the perpetrators in place of the prosecutor”, Gaweł told Euractiv.
“Unfortunately, under the rule of the extreme right in Poland, prosecutors have often protected perpetrators of crimes motivated by racial hatred”, he added.
Gaweł, facing prison for fraud and forging documents, was granted political asylum by Norway in October 2020, The Guardian reported.
Freedom of speech
From their side, the MEPs argue that the indictment is an attack against freedom of speech while also reminding that this is a private accusation, which has previously been “legally” dropped by the public prosecutor’s office.
“MEPs did not create the spot. The ‘crime’ of the MEPs was to pass on or like [on social media] the official spot of the ruling party in Poland in 2018”, MEP Patryk Jaki, on behalf of the four MEPs, told Euractiv.
“The spot showed excerpts of incidents with migrants, shown on TV stations across Europe, so banning MEPs from what is not banned in Europe would be a blow to the freedom of public debate’, he added, while adding that “the case is therefore about freedom of speech, which is what immunity was established for”.
The Parliament makes it clear that MEPs cannot be subject to any form of legal proceedings deriving from opinions expressed in their official capacity. During the 2018 local elections, only Tomasz Poręba held office in the European Parliament.
If the immunity is waived, the MEPs in question can take the case to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) based on TFEU Article 263, which would considerably lengthen the process.
By comparison, the immunity waiver case of former Catalan president and MEP Carles Puigdemont has been stuck in the CJEU since 2021 and has yet to be resolved.
(Max Griera | Euractiv.com)
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