New Polish law restricts freedom of speech

Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, signed an amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance last month. This development outlaws speech that accuses Poland of involvement with Nazi crimes during World War II. This has made accusations of Polish affiliation with Nazi crimes illegal and punishable by fines or imprisonment for up to three years.

The passage of this piece of legislation has caught the eye of political leaders around the world, including the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused Polish leaders of trying to deny facts about the Holocaust. Rex Tillerson, the departing U.S. secretary of state, weighed in on the Polish law as well.

“Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry,” said Tillerson, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While there have been legitimate social, political and economic problems that have taken their toll on the politicians in Poland, and these likely contributed to this decision, the law is also a concession of linguistic territory. The amendment violates the international law granting the right to freedom of expression, according to a public statement made by Amnesty International, an organization focused on human rights.

Additionally, the amendment has come under fire because of its indiscriminate reach, including potential prosecution for a variety of activities ranging from peaceful protest to historical research.

Jan Gross, a Polish-American sociologist and historian, whose work is considered counterfactual and biased by the government of Poland, spoke on the significance of the amendment.

“It’s a very dramatic turn in Polish history, what we observe now … ,” said Gross. “In Poland, the past, the wartime past, this complicity in the persecution of Jews has never been worked through.”

Even those outside of Poland could be affected by the amendment. Legal action was recently taken against an Argentinian newspaper that reported on an anti-Jewish pogrom, which took place in the 1950s.

The Polish Senate’s Speaker said that the legislation is intended to impact Polish people around the world, asking them to report “all manifestations of anti-Polism … expressions and opinions that harm us,” as well as “any slander affecting the good reputation of Poland.”

Also included in the words of the final document was the promise of a “chilling effect,” which, according to Amnesty International, could be used to silence critics and severely limit freedom of speech.

The legislation and its effects have been met with peaceful protest, according to Time magazine. Other instances of social action however, have led to less peaceful outcomes, most notably instances where groups in support of the government and those in opposition meet. Although demonstrations like these raise awareness for these issues, political momentum in Poland appears to be moving towards a more restrictive state.