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US Senators Urge New Polish Government to 'Recommit' to Democracy

  • VOA News

FILE - Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, Feb. 3, 2016.

FILE - Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, Feb. 3, 2016.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, identifying themselves as friends of Poland, have written to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo to register concern over recent Polish legislation seen as threatening the independence of state media and the country's highest court.

The letter, signed February 10 by senators John McCain, Benjamin Cardin and Richard Durbin, cites two recent laws, one of which curbs the ability of Poland's Constitutional Court to strike down laws found to be unconstitutional.

"We understand that the second law would threaten the independence of state broadcasters and press freedom in the country," the letter says, adding that the laws "could serve to diminish Democratic norms in Poland."

The letter further warned that "an erosion of democracy" in Poland would threaten liberal institutions "that have successfully expanded prosperity, peace, stability and tolerance" across the continent.

Separately, Nils Muižnieks, the human rights chief for the Council of Europe, warned Friday that the Constitutional Court had become "paralyzed" by the country's new euro-skeptic, anti-migrant, right-wing Law and Justice Party, which swept to victory in elections in October.

Muižnieks voiced most concern for the court crisis, spawned by a new law requiring all court rulings to have the support of a two-thirds majority of the 15-member bench, rather than a simple majority of the past.

He also said the crisis extends beyond the constitutional balance of powers to the rule of law and to human rights.

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) led by staunch conservative ex-prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has triggered alarm and public protests since taking office, partly over its attempts to install five judges of its own choosing. It stirred further concern by refusing to recognize judges appointed by the previous government, dominated by the liberal Civic Platform Party.

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz in December compared political developments in Poland to a "coup," and then declined to apologize for his comments when Polish Prime Minster Szydlo called them "unacceptable."