WARSAW (Reuters) - Judges who have opposed the “political hijacking” of Poland’s judiciary are suffering unfair discrimination, human rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday, adding to European Union pressure on the ruling nationalists.
Since taking office in 2015, Poland’s eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has carried out reforms seen by critics as increasing government control over courts.
Amnesty’s report said judges and prosecutors had faced unfair disciplinary procedures and public criticism, particularly those who have accused Poland of backsliding on the rule of law and have approached the European Court of Justice with questions.
“The Polish authorities have conducted a witch hunt, working behind the scenes to intimidate and smear the Polish judges and prosecutors who have courageously protested against the political hijacking of the judiciary,” said Amnesty regional researcher Barbora Cernusakova in a statement.
“This harassment has to stop immediately.”
The government has justified the widespread judicial reforms - including how judges are appointed - by saying they are necessary to improve efficiency of courts and root out the vestiges of the 1945-89 communist era.
But their methods have had a chilling effect on many judges, said Draginja Nadazdin, director of Amnesty’s Poland office.
“The independence of judges and the judiciary is a basic guarantee for human rights,” she said in an interview.
Some of the government’s changes to the judiciary have been rolled back in the wake of European Union protests, including a law forcing Supreme Court judges into early retirement.
But last month it got another rap from the Council of Europe’s rights commissioner for encroaching on judicial independence. She cited the fusing of the functions of justice minister and prosecutor-general as an example.
The PiS, which commands strong support in conservative small towns and villages but is unpopular among educated urbanites, insists all its reforms are lawful.
Despite EU disapproval, PiS’ blend of social spending and nationalist rhetoric remains popular in Poland and it is widely expected to win a national election due later this year.
There was no immediate government reaction to the Amnesty report.
Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne