President Andrzej Duda’s campaign team has condemned “foreign intervention” in Poland’s presidential election after a partly German-owned Polish newspaper published details about a convicted child sex abuser whom Duda recently pardoned.
“I have an appeal to the German ambassador,” said Adam Bielan, a spokesman for Duda’s campaign and also an MEP for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. “We do not wish for this type of foreign intervention in the electoral process.”
His remarks are the latest episode in an ongoing controversy over a decision taken by the president in March – but which only became public knowledge this week – to issue a pardon to a man convicted of sexually abusing his underage daughter.
Duda has justified his decision by noting that the man had already served his sentence and the pardon was designed only to remove a restraining order, which the man’s family – including his now-adult daughter – had themselves requested. Duda’s staff accused the media of spreading “fake news” about the story.
Yesterday, further details of the case came to light. Gazeta Wyborcza, an opposition-supporting newspaper, revealed that the pardoned man was still on a public register of sex offenders that the PiS government had itself set up so that the public could be aware of “the most dangerous paedophiles”.
However, PiS-linked news website wPolityce published inside details of the family in question, who said that they were grateful to the president for allowing them to return to normal life. The article claimed the man was “never a paedophile”; it was just “a disorder resulting from addiction to alcohol…[that was] the cause of his daughter’s suffering”.
This morning, tabloid Fakt, which is jointly owned by the German firm Axel Springer SE and Swiss group Ringier Holding AG, published a cover story with further details of the case.
It wrote that the convicted man had abused his daughter “repeatedly”, “with considerable frequency” and for “a relatively long period”, including by hitting her in the face, putting his hand on her crotch, and “masturbating using the hands of the child”.
“This man should never receive the support of officials, and especially a pardon from the supreme organ of the state,” wrote the newspaper.
Urzędnicy prezydenta @AndrzejDuda chcieli ukryć szczegóły tej sprawy, ale #Fakt dotarł do wyroku na pedofila. Jutro w Fakcie wstrząsające kulisy działań człowieka, którego ułaskawił prezydent. A już dziś na https://t.co/LS3eHUkQGU pierwsza część tekstu.
— FAKT24.PL (@FAKT24PL) July 2, 2020
The article triggered an angry response from President Duda’s team. Bielan, as well as claiming foreign interference in the election, said that there is currently “a huge hate campaign against President Andrzej Duda and also his voters”.
The head of Duda’s campaign, Joachim Brudziński, wrote that “journalists of this German rag odiously manipulate” and called Fakt a “vile, gutter tabloid”.
“The German Fakt is interfering in the presidential elections in Poland in a brutal manner,” tweeted PiS MP Arkadiusz Mularczyk.
Dziennikarze niemieckiego szmatławca, ohydnie manipulują, wiedzą bardzo dobrze,że Prezydent nie ułaskawił tego człowieka za czyn pedofilski, osoba ta odbyła PEŁNĄ karę za popełnione(ohydne) przestępstwo. Prezydent pochylił się nad prośbą OFIARY, która wybaczyła swojemu Ojcu. https://t.co/k3RND2fIAI
— Joachim Brudziński (@jbrudzinski) July 2, 2020
President Duda himself attacked foreign-owned media in Poland earlier this week. He and his rival Rafał Trzaskowski – who will face each other in a run-off election on 12 July – have been locked in disagreement over how to hold a televised debate, including which TV station should host it.
After Trzaskowski favoured taking part in a debate co-hosted by American-owned station TVN, website Onet, which has the same Swiss and German owners as Fakt, and Polish-owned website Wirtulna Polska, Duda accused him of “wanting to organise a debate under the protection of foreign media”.
The ruling PiS party, from which Duda hails, has long called for a “repolonisation” of media, which would reduce and restrict foreign ownership of Polish outlets. Since returning to power in 2015, however, it has not presented any legislation to that effect.
Throughout the campaign for the presidential elections, the first round of which took place on Sunday, Polish state TV, which is under the influence of the government and supports Duda’s re-election, has sought to present Trzaskowski as a representative of foreign interests.
In regular news reports, they have presented the opposition candidate as working on behalf of a “powerful foreign lobby” linked to George Soros and the Bilderberg group, which was responsible for bringing Muslim immigrants to Europe. They also suggested that Trzaskowski wants to allow Jews to “rob” Poland of “200 billion zloty” in restitution claims.
On Monday, observers from the OSCE said that the presidential election campaign had been “characterised by intolerant rhetoric and a public broadcaster that failed in its duty to offer balanced and impartial coverage”, instead “portraying [Trzaskowski] as a threat to Polish values and national interests…with xenophobic and antisemitic undertones”.
There has so far been no response from the German ambassador, Fakt or its owners to the Duda campaign’s accusations of foreign interference.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.