Protesters take to Polish streets to 'defend freedom'

Protesters take to Polish streets to 'defend freedom'

WARSAW – Agence France-Presse
Protesters take to Polish streets to defend freedom

People demonstrate during an anti-government rally in Warsaw, Poland. Reuters photo

Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 30 cities across Poland on Jan. 23 to "defend freedom" and protest against the conservative government.

"We are not revolutionaries," said Mateusz Kijowski, founder of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) which organized the demonstrations.

"Revolutionaries are those who destroy order, who want to impose their own rule. We want to preserve our democracy and our freedom."

On a sunny but cold day in Warsaw, thousands gathered in front of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo's office, before moving to the presidential palace.

Led by former premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) has been in power since an October election, and has regularly butted heads with the media and the opposition.

The KOD organized marches on Jn. 23 in 36 cities across Poland. Rallies of support were also planned in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, London, Melbourne, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna.

These are the latest in a series of demonstrations in reaction to recent legislation giving the government greater control of the Constitutional Court, media and other institutions. The controversial legal changes have prompted harsh criticisms both at home and across Europe.

The EU recently launched an unprecedented probe to see if the Polish government violates the bloc's democracy rules and merits punitive measures.

Brussels introduced the "rule of law" mechanism in 2014, giving the 28-nation bloc the right to investigate and if necessary punish any member state which violates key EU democratic and rights norms.

If found at fault, a country can be stripped of its EU voting rights - the so-called "nuclear option" - but the procedure has not been used before and officials say they hope it does not come to that.