Thousands hold nationwide rallies in Poland against new court reforms

Thousands of people have staged rallies in the Polish capital, Warsaw, and other cities in protest at the new court reforms, which they view as a threat to democracy and judicial independence.

Some 4,500 people attended the demonstration in front of the parliament in one of the two demonstrations held in Warsaw on Sunday, media quoted police as saying.

However, city authorities put the number of participants at more than 10,000.

The demonstrators slammed the legislative chamber for passing a set of judiciary reforms earlier in the week, which opponents says gives power to the government over the courts. EU politicians also censured the legislation as undemocratic.

During the march, the protesters also waved national and European Union flags, chanting slogans such as “we will defend democracy.”

“We, the citizens, are defending the rule of law, we are on the side of the law,” said one of the protest leaders, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk.

Later in the day, some 17,000 gathered outside the Supreme Court in another rally organized by an association of Polish judges, holding up candles and shouting slogans in support of “free courts.”

Protesters also gathered in Krakow, Szczecin, Poznan and elsewhere.

The rallies were the latest in a string of mass demonstrations against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s reforms in courts as well as other areas such as media and education.

European Union politicians have sided with Poland’s opposition, saying PiS reforms violate judicial independence and the rule of law.

The PiS, which has been in power for 20 months, controls both houses of parliament and enjoys support from President Andrzej Duda.

Under the new legislation approved by the PiS-dominated parliament, lawmakers appoint members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which draws up and enforces ethical guidelines for judges, reviews judicial candidates and seeks opinions on new rules and regulations to ensure they are constitutional.

Another draft law calls for the retirement of all Supreme Court judges and new appointments to be made by the justice minister, and reorganization of its work. Among the court’s tasks is confirming the validity of elections and ruling on especially difficult cases.

Poland is a young democracy, after it shed communist rule in 1989 and joined the EU in 2004.

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