Polish president signs law to keep away journalists, NGOs from Belarus border

People leave a tent carrying food at the transport and logistics center near the Bruzgi checkpoint at the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus, 23 November 2021. Asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants from the Middle East arrived at the Belarusian-Polish checkpoint of Bruzgi-Kuznica aiming to cross the border. Thousands of people who want to obtain asylum in the European Union have been trapped at low temperatures at the border since 08 November. [EPA-EFE/STRINGER]

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda on Tuesday (30 November) signed into law legislation that will limit the access of aid charities and journalists to its border with Belarus as the country grapples with a simmering migrant crisis.

The law is a blow to the opposition parties that advocated for unlimited media access, an amendment approved by the upper house of parliament on Friday but rejected by the lower house.

Under the state of emergency declared in the border region in September and ending at midnight, the media and aid charities were completely banned. The opposition said the ban was intended to cover up rights abuses and had sought unfettered access.

The government said the restrictions were necessary for security reasons.

Under the new rules, the interior minister can limit access to the border zone after consulting with the head of the Border Guard. However, journalists and NGOs may be able to enter at the discretion of local Border Guard heads.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said on Tuesday night he would order a temporary ban on entering areas around the border.

The European Union accuses Minsk of engineering the migrant crisis to hit back at sanctions. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko accuses the EU of deliberately provoking a humanitarian crisis.

Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman has criticised the new law, saying it gives the interior minister the right to limit freedom of movement and to limit access to information about what is happening on the border indefinitely.

While the situation on the border has calmed since mid-November, when Polish security forces fired water cannon at migrants throwing rocks, there are still nightly attempts by groups to force their way through barbed wire fencing on the frontier.

The Polish Border Guard said there were 134 attempts to cross the Belarus border on Monday.

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