Warsaw, Poland – The Polish deputy Justice Minister announced his resignation following a scandal sparked by the publication of a report claiming he had orchestrated an online trolling and defamation campaign to discredit judges who opposed the government’s controversial judicial reforms.
A coordinated defamation and trolling media campaign
On Monday, the Onet.pl online portal published a report claiming that Lukasz Piebiak, a member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and deputy Justice Minister since 2015, had organized and funded an online campaign targeting judges who were critical of the government’s judicial policies.
According to Onet.pl, which first revealed the scandal, Piebiak had been in contact with a woman known as Emilia, with whom he launched an extensive trolling campaign to discredit Polish judges, including Krystian Markiewicz, chairman of the judicial association Iustitia, by planting and spreading false rumors and fabricated information about their private lives.
Markiewicz, a known and prominent critic of the government, reacted by saying that “we are dealing with systemic actions taken against judges, against the rule of law in Poland”.
The campaign also targeted some 20 other judges critical of the government’s controversial judicial reforms.
“Beautiful and widespread activities”
According to the transcripts published by Onet.pl, Piebiak congratulated Emilia for “such beautiful and widespread activities”.
Through the intermediary of Emilia, whose surname and identity was not given, these rumors were then sent to other judges and pro-government media, as well as posted online in a vast operation, Onet.pl says, was directly orchestrated and funded by the deputy Justice Minister.
These revelations quickly caused outrage, prompting Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to demand explanations and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to ask for the resignation of his right-hand man.
On Tuesday, Piebiak announced that “with a sense of responsibility for the success of reforms to which I have devoted four years of hard work, I am handing in my resignation from the office of undersecretary of state to the minister of justice”, he stated.
He nevertheless announced he was planning to sue the Onet.pl website, claiming he had been the target of a politically-motivated campaign: “It’s not a coincidence that these lies show up directly before the general election”, he said.
New headache for the Polish ruling party ahead of elections
This isn’t the first head to roll as the ruling party has been hit by a series of high-profile scandals in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament Marek Kuchciński was also forced out over revelations regarding his extensive use of government planes for private purposes.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s party, which is still comfortably leading in all opinion polls, has tried to head off all the scandals that might dent its popularity ahead of this year’s national elections, due to be held on October 13.
The opposition, meanwhile, has seized the opportunity to attack the Law and Justice party. Opposition MP Pawel Olszewski claimed that “Mr. Ziobro [the Justice Minister] knew perfectly well about this scandalous situation of baiting independent judges”.
Lawmaker for the Civic Platform party Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz called for both the deputy-minister and Justice Minister to resign: “Coordinating an effort to besmirch the names of judges by the leadership of whatever ministry would be a scandal and a cause for dismissal… in any normal country”, she tweeted.
In its report, Onet.pl only alluded to an “unidentified boss” deputy-minister Piebiak was allegedly supposed to report to regarding the impact of the trolling campaign.