Polish protesters block parliament over press freedom

Crowds outside the Polish parliament in Warsaw, 16 December 2016Image copyright

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Crowds blocked the entrance to the Polish parliament late on Friday evening

Protesters have blockaded the Polish parliament in Warsaw in support of opposition MPs unhappy about rules restricting press reporting.

The opposition objects to government plans to limit the number of journalists allowed to cover parliamentary proceedings.

The MPs’ protest delayed a budget vote, which was later held away from the main parliament chamber.

Hundreds of police have surrounded protesters in a late-night stand-off.

Michal Szczerba, a MP from the opposition Civic Platform party, tweeted early on Saturday: “For the first time I have seen armed police at the parliament building.”

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) earlier denounced the protest “hooliganism”.

“We will not allow ourselves to be terrorised,” he said.

The opposition accused the government of passing next year’s budget unlawfully by transferring the key vote to a smaller hall and excluding the press.

PiS has been accused of restricting press freedom since coming to power last year.

Next year only a few reporters will be allowed into parliament.

Only five selected Polish television stations will be permitted to make recordings of parliamentary sessions.

The government argues that it does not believe the measures are restrictive.

Supporters of the move argue it will stop MPs from being accosted by journalists inside the parliamentary building.

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It is believed to be the first protest of its kind in the Polish parliament for 10 years

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Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski (right) left parliament as the protest got underway

The demonstration on Friday began when an opposition MP held aloft a placard reading “free media”.

He was told by Speaker Marek Kuchcinski, who is a PiS member, that he would no longer be allowed to attend parliamentary proceedings.

But by then other opposition MPs converged on the podium to demand press freedom and an end to censorship.

It is believed to be the first protest of its kind in the Polish parliament for 10 years.

The proposed new rules – due to be enforced next year – ban all recording of parliamentary sessions except by the five selected television stations. They also restrict the number of reporters permitted to enter the building.

“This restriction, first of all, does not hit journalists, but the rights of citizens to be fully informed about what people elected by them to the parliament do,” a statement compiled by the country’s largest independent news organisations said on Friday.

TVN24 for its part broadcast the parliamentary disruption with an on-screen message informing viewers they would not be able to see such scenes once the new rules are in place on 1 January.

Human rights campaigners have also condemned the plans, with former dissident Seweryn Blumsztajn condemning them as a “return to communist-era practices”.

Polish protesters block parliament over press freedom

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