Norway has granted asylum to a Polish man who was facing prison for fraud and forging of documents, saying the sentence was a form of political persecution under Poland’s rightwing government.
Observers say that Rafał Gaweł’s case is the first time political asylum has been granted to a Pole in more than 30 years since the fall of communism in Poland. They see it as another sign that international trust in Poland’s justice system has been undermined by the government, which is putting it under political control.
But the Polish deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, noted that the probe into Gawel’s financial dealings was opened under the previous liberal government.
The decision by Norway’s Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) to grant refugee status, announced last week, gives Gaweł, his wife and daughter the right to reside in Norway for a year. Gaweł and his wife have permission to work.
“I am the first Pole who managed to win asylum since communist times,” Gawel told the Associated Press over the phone from Norway. “I am sure I have saved my life, because if I had gone to prison in Poland, I couldn’t have expected any good future,” he said. “I was hated by the government.”
He said that during almost two years of proceedings, he gave the immigration body all the documents, including the court sentence, and explained every nuance of his situation. “It’s not like they don’t know who they have granted asylum to,” Gawel said.
Marianne Granlund, a department head at the board, told Norway’s VG newspaper it was very rare to grant asylum to citizens from European countries.
“The documentation was so extensive here and the complainant’s explanation was so convincing that UNE was convinced he was entitled to protection,” she said.
Gaweł’s lawyer, Łukasz Niedzielski, said on Monday that asylum in Gaweł’s case could be easily extended. He said the board had seen all the relevant documents, including the Polish court verdict.
In justifying its decisions, the board argued that Poland’s courts have been politicised and the system of checks and balances destroyed, while the state failed to counteract the activity of far-right organisations.
Earlier, Norway rejected Poland’s request for Gaweł’s extradition. Some other courts in Europe have refused to extradite Poles, saying they cannot have a fair trial under Poland’s government.
The Gawełs fled Poland in January 2019, shortly before a Polish court of appeals confirmed Rafał Gaweł’s conviction and handed down a two-year prison sentence for fraud, forging signatures and counterfeiting financial documents. More investigations are under way.
Gaweł, who was founder and head of the Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour, based in Białystok, eastern Poland, denies any wrongdoing and insists that the conviction is a form of persecution for the group’s activity.
He says his organisation has exposed ties between local officials, prosecutors and far-right groups in Białystok.