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Interpol refuses to issue warrant for Polish judge who fled to Belarus

Judge Tomasz Szmydt. Photo: @SebastianPito

Agata Pyka

5 Jun 2024

“Interpol refused to issue a red notice for judge Tomasz Szmydt,” Katarzyna Nowak, spokeswoman for Poland’s central police headquarters, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Interpol has rejected Poland’s request to issue an international warrant for the arrest and extradition of Tomasz Szmydt, the Polish judge who last month fled to Belarus seeking asylum.

Poland accuses him of espionage. But Interpol notes that such crimes are outside the scope of its activity. The Polish authorities are also hoping to obtain a European Arrest Warrant against Szmydt.

“Interpol refused to issue a red notice for judge Tomasz Szmydt,” Katarzyna Nowak, spokeswoman for Poland’s central police headquarters, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP). A “red notice” is the name for a request sent to law enforcement worldwide via Interpol to arrest a suspect with a view to extradition.

“Interpol indicated that crimes of espionage fall within the scope of article 3 of the Interpol statute, according to which Interpol does not allow the processing of data via its channels for actions against state security defined as political crimes,” added Nowak, quoted by broadcaster TVN.

Under that article of Interpol’s constitution, the organisation “is strictly forbidden to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character”.

Szmydt, a judge at the provincial administrative court in Warsaw, fled to Belarus at the beginning of May, saying he was seeking asylum due to political persecution in Poland because of his opposition to the government.

He has since regularly used his social media channels as well as appearances in Russian and Belarusian media to make attacks on Poland and the West that closely reflect Moscow and Minsk’s propaganda lines.

He accuses the Polish government of “leading the country to war…under the influence of the US and Great Britain”. Meanwhile, Szmydt has regularly praised Belarus and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been widely condemned by international organisations for human rights abuses.

On 9 May, Poland’s Supreme Administrative Court accepted Szmydt’s resignation from his position. That same day, its disciplinary chamber approved a request from prosecutors to waive the judge’s immunity and issue permission for his detention.

The court said the evidence shows that Szmydt “took part in a hybrid war in the form of an information war waged by Belarus and Russia against Poland”. He participated in propaganda programmes and disseminated content “aiming to provoke a conflict with Russia and Belarus…thus acting to the detriment of Poland”.

On 16 May, Polish police informed that Szmydt is wanted on an arrest warrant issued by the Masovian branch of the Department of Organised Crime and Corruption of the National Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw.

They have also applied to Warsaw’s district court for a European Arrest Warrant for Szmydt, which would allow the Polish arrest warrant to be extended to all other EU member states, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

But “the EAW will be effective only if Tomasz Szmydt leaves Belarus and goes to another country where the European warrant is in force”, Piotr Kladoczny from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights told the Rzeczpospolita daily.

Szmydt himself responded on messaging service Telegram to the news regarding Interpol’s decision not to issue a red notice against him. He claimed that the allegations against him are “fabricated” and that “Interpol should deal with finding real criminals, not persecuting people for their political views”.

Based on his activity on Telegram, Szmydt remains in Minsk, where he continues to spread pro-Russian and pro-Belarusian propaganda in posts blaming, for example, the migrant crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border on the EU and praising Belarusian infrastructure.

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