Crisis in Poland: Conservative MPs go on hunger strike after their arrest in the Presidential Palace

Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, who have been arrested despite a presidential pardon, have announced a hunger strike and are being described as political prisoners as tensions rise in Poland

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: RMF FM
Mariusz Kaminski, a minister in the previous PiS government, is now in prison despite being pardoned by the country's current Polish president. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The former interior minister Mariusz Kamiński and his deputy Maciej Wąsik were elected to serve as MPs in last October’s election, even though their party lost power to a new parliamentary majority. They were both detained in the presidential palace on the evening of Jan. 9.

On Jan. 10, the Law and Justice (PiS) party held a press conference in front of the offices of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, at which they read a statement by Kamiński announcing his hunger strike.

“I treat my sentencing as an act of political revenge,” wrote the former minister. “Therefore, as a political prisoner, I am starting a hunger protest from the first day of my imprisonment.”

He demanded the release of himself, Wąsik and two other former figures from the Central Anti-corruption Bureau (CBA) who were also convicted in the same case. On Wednesday evening, Maciej Wąsik’s wife announced on Television Republika that her husband, like Mariusz Kamiński, also started a hunger strike.

Deputy Justice Minister Maria Ejchart commented on Kamiński’s decision to go on a hunger strike by saying that his action was “one of his own free will and that everyone has a right not to eat or drink.” However, she added that since he was currently in a penitentiary, the state was responsible for him and would ensure his health would be monitored and action could be taken such as placing him in a prison hospital. She acknowledged, however, that only a court could authorize forced feeding.  

Ejchart denied that Kamiński is a political prisoner, as he does not meet the criteria set out by the Council of Europe in 2012.

Kamiński and Wąsik were handed two-year prison sentences in December by an appeals court, despite having been pardoned for the offenses in question by President Andrzej Duda back in 2015. However, they remained at liberty until this week, when a court ordered them to be taken to jail. After being detained on Tuesday evening, they were transported to a remand center in Warsaw.

They were found to have acted unlawfully during an investigation into a corruption scandal at a time when Kamiński led a federal anti-corruption unit (CBA) under a previous PiS government that was in power from 2005 to 2007. 

Their actions are alleged to have included ordering illegal surveillance and the production of fake documents. However, as a result of the sting they instigated, some officials from the Ministry of Agriculture were actually sentenced to prison by a court of law. 

They were initially convicted in 2015 but, while still appealing that conviction, they were issued with pardons by Duda, a PiS ally. He did so one day after Kamiński had been appointed as a minister in a new PiS-led government that remained in power until last month.

However, last year, a chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that those pardons were invalid because they were issued before a final, binding conviction had been issued. That opened the way for Kamiński and Wąsik’s appeals to be heard in December when the pair were handed down binding prison sentences.

Despite that ruling, another top court, the Constitutional Court, ruled that the Supreme Court has no right to question presidential pardons. And last week, a separate chamber of the Supreme Court also effectively recognized the pardons as valid.

This is why PiS and President Andrzej Duda argue that the pardons remain in force and that December’s convictions against them should not be enforced. Polish conservatives claim the pair are being victimized by Tusk and judges allied to his party because of Kamiński and Wąsik’s effectiveness in the fight against corruption.

The dueling rulings from different courts have led analysts to speak of chaos in the Polish legal system, which has allowed rival political parties to pick and choose which rulings best fit their interests.

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