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A top Polish Justice Ministry official resigned under the cloud of accusations that he ran a smear campaign against judges who criticized the government.
With two months to go before October elections, Deputy Minister Lukasz Piebiak stepped down Tuesday after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki demanded answers for the allegations published by news portal Onet.pl that described a coordinated campaign to discredit justices.
The scandal comes amid Poland’s drift away from the European Union’s liberal and democratic values, with the ruling Law & Justice party facing EU probes over its efforts to give politicians more power over the judiciary. While the Justice Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment by phone, state broadcaster TVP cited Piebiak as saying he resigned “with a sense of responsibility for reforms.”
“This is an assault on the judicial branch coming from the Justice Ministry, so the scope of this scandal is beyond any scale,” Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said by phone.
According to Onet.pl, Piebiak oversaw efforts that included publishing fabricated and personal information about judges on social media. Onet.pl said it received the information, including transcripts of message traffic, from sources including someone involved in the campaign.
Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw that he’ll take “appropriate actions” after reviewing Piebiak’s explanations. Law & Justice holds a commanding lead in opinion polls before the Oct. 13 ballot despite a series of scandals, betting that strong economic growth, a boost in welfare benefits and fast wage growth will help it win re-election against a splintered opposition.
Onet.pl said some 2,500 emails and letters were sent in a campaign that targeted about 20 judges and was led by a woman it identified as Emilia. The woman, with help from Piebiak, smeared judges on social media and sent letters to their colleagues and families, as well as pro-government media, about alleged extramarital affairs and other indiscretions meant to undermine their standing, according to the report.
Section of text message transcripts published by Onet.pl:
Emilia: I will talk to journalists and send letters, anonymously by email and also by post. The only problem is I don’t have addresses and emails. I will do everything I can, as always, but won’t vouch for the result. I hope they won’t jail me.
Piebiak: We don’t imprison people for good deeds.
Onet.pl said the campaign’s main target was Judge Krystian Markiewicz, the head of the Iustitia judges association. During a discussion about the campaign, Piebiak was cited as saying that “people will spread it and Markiewicz will diminish knowing what’s gathered on him.”
Markiewicz said he was “livid” about the alleged campaign. “Instead of fighting hate speech, it’s being created within the walls of the Justice Ministry,” he told TVN24.
The government hasn’t shied away from controversy after retooling the judiciary. It has used money from state-owned companies to fund a billboard campaign depicting judges as thieves. Leading officials have repeatedly said the court system is run by a “caste of elites” that considers itself above the law.
Among the steps the government has taken to tighten its grip on courts are the creation of a new panel within the Supreme Court that can discipline judges and launched proceedings against dozens of justices who criticized the changes.
Last month, the EU’s executive sent a final warning to Poland over a new disciplinary regime for judges, threatening to open another lawsuit. The government argues that the EU has no jurisdiction over how member states run their courts.
(Updates with official’s resignation.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Marek Strzelecki in Warsaw at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at email@example.com, Michael Winfrey, Wojciech Moskwa
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