The saga of so called “political prisoners” in Poland explained:

This piece was published in Britske Listy as a part of Meanwhile in Cuckooland series.
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You might have seen in the news headlines like “Polish lawmakers arrested by the new government” and wonder what is that all about. I will try to explain the whole affair in chronological order, but be prepared to be confused, as the matter is really complicated. If you can’t be bothered to read it all, let me give you a simple TL;DR:

They aren’t lawmakers any more, as they were sentenced to jail time for crimes they committed back in 2007. The PiS government were trying to protect them for many years, but with the rule of law being re-established in Poland, they finally faced justice. President Duda just pardoned them again, just so they could be used to further destabilize political life in Poland.

And now, for the full version:

1. Michał Wąsik and Mariusz Kamiński were leading Central Anti-corruption Bureau the during previous time PiS was in power in 2005 and 2007. As Kaczyński had a problem with his coalition partner Andrzej Lepper, they were tasked with a mission to frame him into a corruption scandal. They failed as their scheme had been exposed. All that led to the collapse of the coalition and PiS was removed from power after having to call a snap election.

2. Wąsik and Kamiński were accused of exceeding their authority and abusing their position, for which they were sentenced for jail time in 2015. Andrzej Duda granted them a presidential pardon (see more here).

3. Presidential pardon has been contested by legal experts (as well as everyone with a bit of common sense), as they were only sentenced by the court of first instance and they appealed, so they haven’t received the final verdict at the time. And since a person is innocent under proven guilty by a final verdict, they could not be pardoned, as you can’t pardon an innocent man. Andrzej Duda argued that “he wants to free the justice system from the burden of having to deal with that case” but the fact is it’s not in presidential prerogatives to do that, as it would mean he tries to come across the lines of division of power and take charge of the judicial process. But Kaczyński wanted them to take control of our special services, so he didn’t care about it, and ordered Duda – who is his puppet – to go ahead with it.

4. The justice system decided they would continue to burden themselves after all and, after the High Court ruled that the presidential pardon was invalid, went ahead with court proceedings again. Recently Wąsik and Kamiński have been found guilty by the court of second instance and sentenced to two years of jail each. The verdict is final this time. However, PiS disagrees with that. And that’s where the matters get complicated, so fasten your seatbelts as it’s going to be a wild ride:

5. Kamiński and Wąsik have been elected as MPs to the new parliament, so as they are now convicted criminals, speaker Szymon Hołownia voided their mandates (it was just a formality, and they should be replaced by PiS candidates from the district that gathered next biggest number of votes). Hołownia acknowledged that they have the right to appeal this decision, but asked them to show some decency and refrain from taking part in parliamentary proceedings, as the matter is pretty obvious.

6. The next day Kamiński comes to the parliament, is applauded by his party colleagues, and shows a victory sign and then a vulgar gesture towards the ruling coalition:

7. Now the matter gets really complicated but it had been already explained well by Piotr Pacewicz from

Kamiński and Wąsik file an appeal avoiding proper procedures (they should file it to the speaker, but instead they deliver the paperwork to the chamber of high court that had been created by PiS and deemed illegal by the High Court, European Tribunal of Justice and European Tribunal of human rights – so basically, to the illegal court).

Next day after that, speaker Hołownia delivers the complete paperwork to the court, but as the chairman of the High Court is another judge illegally appointed by PiS, he sends a personal messenger to ensure the paperwork will be filed with proper department staffed with legally appointed judges, but part of the paperwork is hijacked by illegal judges appointed by PiS, who “rule” that it was illegal for speaker Hołownia to strip Wąsik of his mandate and returns the paperwork to Hołownia, who send it back to the correct chamber of the court.

But the existence of the previous “ruling” means, that this chamber now has to first rule on in the other chamber can be considered legal court or not, as they can’t rule again on the same case.

8. All this legal wrestling in the high court will take time, which puts speaker Hołownia in the pickle, as he has to decide if he will allow Wąsik and Kamiński to further participate in the work of the parliament or not, which could lead to some of its decisions being contested in the future, while PiS is already preparing the ground for making Wąsik and Kamiński martyrs, calling them “political prisoners that Donald Tusk wants to jail because they were fighting corruption”.

9. On the 8th of January the court issued an arrest warrant on Wąsik and Kamiński (which is ironic, as this is the change that PiS had introduced: before that, a person with jail time to serve was sent a summon with a date, time and place their sentence starts and only on failure to present themselves the warrant would be issued). PiS argues this was illegal and a pro-PiS judge started disciplinary proceedings against his colleagues who issued this warrant. Why would such a warrant be illegal? According to PiS, the court issued the arrest warrant without having the full paperwork, as this is still in the High Court. This is not true: the paperwork in the High Court relates to the matter of removing them from the parliament, and the arrest warrant is based on the final verdict, which already established their guilt, so the court does not have to look into the case again, but just rubber-stamp the order for the police: they are sentenced, so they are going to jail, go and arrest them! It is, again, a mere formality.

10. As PiS staged a great manifestation outside the parliament on the 11th of January and the two criminals announced they will be there, it was feared that attempt to arrest them might cause riots and situation similar to that of 6th of January in the US Capitol, therefore Speaker Hołownia decided to postpone the parliamentary sitting by a few days in hope the problem will somehow resolve itself.

11. Meanwhile Kamiński and Wąsik got invited to presidential palace, where they were present during the ceremony of swearing in new presidential advisors. There was no reason for them to be there, but President wanted them there to express his support and stress again he believes his pardon was valid and they are still MP’s. They came outside for a brief press conference, but it was clear from their body language they are not so sure of themselves any more:

12. And rightly so, as president left his palace for the meeting with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (the real winner of the presidential elections in Belarus who remains in exile), the police entered the palace and arrested Kamiński and Wąsik.

13. Kamiński and Wąsik ended up in the arrest at the local police station, then they were transferred to two separate prisons. PiS organized regular rallies outside those places. Pro-PiS TV station visited the police station to enquire about “kidnapped members of parliament” which will become the running narrative. But president Andrzej Duda refused to pardon them, claiming the illegal pardon in 2015 is still in place and demanding their release on that ground. .

14. The new government points out there is no grounds to release them unless they will be pardoned – this time legally – by president Duda. Kamiński and Wąsik announced they are going on hunger strike.

15. Wives of Kamiński and Wąsik met with the president and toured pro-PiS media in which they were saying stories how imprisonment of their husbands impacted their lives. It was getting a little bit ridiculous like when Kamiński’s wife complained it’s cold in her house, because her husband never showed her how to use the thermostat. The wives also visited Sejm, where they tried to take up place of their husbands.

16. The propaganda campaign goes on the full spin. MEP’s and employees of the euro parliament have been spammed with e-mails from PiS about “arrested lawmakers”. Right wing propagandists with ties to Russia – from Jack Posobiec to Bruges Group – alarmed about alleged destruction of democracy in Poland. Polish bishops also try to intervene and call for the new government to release the prisoners on humanitarian grounds. According to PiS media, Mariusz Kamiński lost 10% of his body weight and had to be transferred to the intensive care unit in local hospital, however after being examined, the doctors found no ground to keep him there and was sent back to the prison, where he was receiving sufficient care (as pointed out by someone, the hospital in the prison he was placed in specialises in dealing with addictions, including drug and alcohol, which helped to fuel some rumours that Kamiński is an alcoholic addicted to cocaine).

17. President Duda after playing Hamlet for some time, decided to pardon the criminals again after all, however this time he didn’t use his presidential prerogative but went for the different route that incorporate a longish procedure that includes seeking opinion of the prosecutor general. He still demanded for Wąsik and Kamiński to be released immediately, which was ignored by the new government.

18. The prosecutor general went along with the procedure and prepared very detailed report, in which he advises against releasing Kamiński and Wąsik, pointing out that despite being sentenced they still maintain their innocence, they show no signs of remorse and it’s very likely they will continue to disturb the legal order in Poland. Andrzej Duda completely ignored this report and immediately after formally receiving it, ordered their release, announcing that not only he pardons them, but also wipes out their sentences and criminal records (which lawyers argue he can’t do). The new government releases the prisoners almost immediately. Mariusz Kamiński apparently had a miraculous recovery, as not only he seems to be in good condition and spirit but also does not seem to be particularly starved or maltreated.

* * *

Of course, this is probably not the end. President Duda might have swallowed his pride and pardoned them again, but he did it only to allow PiS to further disturb the political life in Poland. I have no doubt PiS will try to bring their “heroes” to the parliament and insist they are still MPs (they are not, at the moment they were sentenced, their mandates automatically ceased) just to stir some show of force and provoke speaker Hołownia to order the parliamentary guards to remove them by force – they are really in dire need for some dramatic footage, as the fact that Kamiński and Wójcik were arrested inside presidential palace with no TV crews present really derailed their plans to portray them as persecuted heroes.

PiS narration will remain unchanged: Kamiński and Wójcik are the true seekers of justice, punished by Donald Tusk for their heroic fight against corruption. However, when they squeeze everything that they could from that theatre, they are likely going to put them up for the oncoming Europarliament elections to ensure they can hide behind parliamentary immunity – as there are several cases related to their abuse of power and criminal actions during the most recent PiS rule pending – just to mention the illegal treatment of refugees at the Belarussian border, the scandal with using Pegasus software to spy on political opponents or the recent case disclosed by their former agent and political ally Tomasz Kamiński who seeks the status of crown witness and is already grassing them up – in a recent TV interview he accused them of rewarding their subordinates with all expenses paid trips to a brothel in Vienna – which will be an obvious case of embezzlement.

The case of Kamiński and Wójcik is just a prelude to what we can expect in the oncoming years. As the new government takes control over more and more institutions, we keep learning about the scale of money embezzlement, criminal behaviour, corruption and nepotism. The process of bringing the guilty to justice has just begun, and the fact that the new government has to operate in a legal environment where many institutions are half-dismantled or controlled by PiS party nominees and the whole system is full of legal booby traps won’t make it easy. As Donald Tusk wrote on his Twitter, it won’t be light, easy and pleasant work. But at least we’re finally on the right track.



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