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Poland’s populists slam ‘political’ arrests as ex-officials launch hunger strikes

A former interior minister and his aide have launched hunger strikes from prison after being detained on abuse of power charges Tuesday for masterminding a fake graft case to discredit another politician in 2007. 

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Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday expressed shock following the arrests of a former interior minister and his aide in a high-profile case that saw the men launch a hunger strike in prison. 

The country has been in political turmoil since a pro-EU coalition removed right-wing populists from power last month, as both sides trade barbs over alleged rule of law violations.

The arrests of prominent Law and Justice (PiS) figures Mariusz Kaminski and Maciej Wasik took place late Tuesday in the presidential palace where the pair had sought refuge following an invitation from the conservative president.

Kaminski, who considers himself a “political prisoner”, said Wednesday he would go on a hunger strike to protest his detention.

Both Kaminski and Wasik were elected lawmakers in October’s polls, but were stripped of their mandates last month following a court verdict.

“I see my conviction for fighting corruption and the unlawful action to deprive me of my parliamentary mandate as an act of political revenge,” Kaminski said in a statement sent to the justice ministry.

But the current government said Kaminski and Wasik were sent to jail after an independent judicial decision. 

“They can’t be referred to as political prisoners, it’s an exaggeration, also considering the political prisoners detained all over the world,” Deputy Justice Minister Maria Ejchart told reporters. 

PiS has called on its supporters to join a protest against the new administration’s decisions, including reforms in the state media, scheduled for Thursday outside the parliament in Warsaw.

The two PiS politicians were taken into custody after an appeals court sentenced them to two years in prison for overstepping their authority in a case dating back to 2007.

Kaminski was found guilty along with his then deputy Wasik at the CBA anti-corruption agency for masterminding a fake graft case to discredit a high-level politician.

‘Textbook’ pardon

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Duda called for calm in the country but expressed support for both men, adding that he was “deeply shocked” by the developments.

“I will not rest until Mariusz Kaminski and his associates are free,” Duda said.

Both men have denied the charges and evoked a pardon that Duda granted them in 2015. That pardon, however, was later annulled by Poland’s Supreme Court.

Legal experts at the time pointed out that the president could not pardon someone who had not yet been definitively convicted.

But as the case gripped the country following the latest court verdict and the arrest warrant, Duda signalled he had no intention to grant them another pardon.

He rejected doubts over the legitimacy of original 2015 pardon, calling it a “textbook case”.

As police arrived at the duo’s doorsteps on Tuesday, the two men appeared by Duda’s side during a ceremony at the presidential palace.

Around 100 PiS supporters – including the party’s powerful chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski – gathered late Tuesday in front of the police station where the two men were taken after their arrests.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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