In a speech on Tuesday evening, surrounded by politicians' wives, Duda called on the Justice Minister to immediately release the two men. Earlier today, the President received non-binding advice from the Attorney General to refrain from granting a pardon. The president is known as a loyal ally of the former ruling party (PiS).
This issue has led to extreme tension in Polish politics in the past two weeks, as a bitter power struggle takes place between the new and old governments. On January 9, the police ordered the arrest of the couple. When the officers arrived at the door, it turned out that the politicians had taken refuge in his presidential palace at the invitation of Duda. After a horrific day, they were arrested there after Duda left.
About the author
Arnot Le Clercq is the Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for De Volkskrant. Lives in Warsaw.
Last December, the court convicted the two politicians, part of the PiS faction in the Polish House of Commons, in a case dating back to the first PiS government between 2005 and 2007. The two men worked for the Polish Anti-Corruption Agency. The Bureau (CBA). They were then convicted of abuse of power, including wiretapping a political opponent and fabricating evidence.
Amnesty has been granted before
Both politicians were convicted in 2015 for their roles in the scandal. Until then, President Duda decided to pardon the two. The Supreme Court appealed this decision because the president issued the pardon before completing the appeal. Despite this, the couple were given senior positions within the new government. The Law and Justice Party had just won the elections. Before the elections last October, Kaminsky was still Minister of the Interior.
The questionable legal status of Duda's first pardon allowed the case to fester, and it was reopened last year by order of the Supreme Court. This led to the conviction last December. The fact that the court convicted the two men did not prevent PiS from raising the mood around the two men. The party believes that the ruling is “vindictive” and that Kaminski and Wasik are “political prisoners.”
The issue has become part of the escalating political conflict in Poland since Donald Tusk's government came to power in December. In his attempts to reform the rule of law, the new prime minister faces fierce resistance from the old ruling party. Two days after the arrest of the two, PiS mobilized tens of thousands of Poles to demonstrate against the new government, which the party believes was behind the conviction.
Duda was then in a difficult position: he could pardon the two again, but that way he would admit that he had acted illegally the first time he did it – and thus lose face. That's why Duda chose to make a U-turn: he passed the hot potato to the Attorney General, who reports to the Ministry of Justice. But on Tuesday, Duda put it back on his plate: He had to decide for himself whether to pardon them, with the explicit (but non-binding) advice not to do so.
According to Polish media, Duda came under great pressure from PiS, especially party leader Kaczynski, to release the two from prison. Their health also played a role. Politicians went on a hunger strike, and Kaminsky's condition in particular deteriorated. He was briefly taken to hospital on Monday evening.
We will have to see whether sentiment in Polish politics will calm down now. Duda received strong criticism from government parties on Tuesday evening. He has already received support from PiS. Another point of contention is already looming: the speaker of the Polish House of Commons revoked the politicians' mandate after the conviction. The question now is whether they will be allowed to return to the House of Commons, which meets later this week.
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