Threats to human rights rising in Poland, ombudsman says

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s crisis over the rule of law also poses a growing threat to human rights in the European Union’s biggest ex-communist member, the country’s ombudsman for human rights said.

Poland’s nationalist government is facing legal action by the EU over judicial reforms that the EU says undermine the separation of powers that is fundamental to democracy.

“In 2018 ... systemic problems related to the crisis of the rule of law and compliance with the constitutional order rose,” ombudsman Adam Bodnar said in his 500-page annual report, which was published late on Tuesday.

“The change in process leading to the imbalance of the authorities continued, discrediting the role of the judiciary and limiting the citizen’s right to an independent court.”

Bodnar, a lawyer appointed to the role of ombudsman in September 2015, just before the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party took power, also pointed to problems with rights to public demonstration and to privacy.

He expressed concern that the secret services had been given more power to gather telecommunications data and conduct surveillance, saying there was no effective control over their actions.

Bodnar also criticized increasing political control of state media and said mechanisms aimed at preventing torture and degrading treatment were inefficient.

A government spokesman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday morning.

The government says the judicial changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of communism, which collapsed in Poland 30 years ago.

Opponents of PiS accuse it of tilting the country back toward authoritarianism. Its blend of social spending and nationalist rhetoric remains popular, however, and the party is widely expected to win a national election due later this year.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Catherine Evans