Last week the Polish president, Andrezej Duda, signed into law a reform that allows the government to create a ‘National Institute of Freedom’ and a ‘National Centre for Civil Society Development’. These bodies, which will report directly to the Prime Minister’s office, will centralise the distribution of EU and government funds to non governmental organisations. The heads of these bodies are to be appointed by the government. Local activists have expressed concerns that there will be no transparency in how the funds will be distributed, no requirement for an open call for applications, and no apparent legal recourse to challenge the law.
The timing of the new legislation coincides with police raids on two women’s domestic violence shelters on the 4th October. Police entered the offices of the BABA Association and Women’s Rights Centre and took their computers as part of an ongoing investigation into possible corruption amongst members of the Ministry of Justice. There are fears that the police investigation is a retaliation for criticisms made by both organisations of the government, and their support for the women’s protest movement, although this has not been substantiated. The computers contained a secure database with details of all the women who reported incidents of domestic violence to both shelters, raising concerns about the confidentiality of that data.
To date the EU has not taken a position on the creation of the ‘National Institute of Freedom’, focusing its attention more to the judicial and constitutional problems faced in Poland
SRT grantee the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights anticipates that smaller NGOs dependent on state funding will be hit hardest, and the government could use the funds to support government-organised NGOs (GONGOs) and right wing groups.
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