Poland/UK – Well-known Polish journalist Rafał Ziemkiewicz had an experience reminiscent of his own country’s communist past on Saturday (September 2) at London Heathrow Airport. He had just landed with his wife and daughter for a two-day private visit, but he was not allowed through immigration control. Ziemkiewicz was stopped by border police and then detained before being put on a plane back to Warsaw.
Ziemkiewicz and his wife were accompanying their daughter to Oxford
Ziemkiewicz’s daughter is going to study at the prestigious Oxford university. He and his wife were accompanying her in her move from Poland. However, what was supposed to be a brief family visit to England soon took a very unpleasant political turn.
Ziemkiewicz explained the whole situation on 3 October on the website of the conservative Polish weekly Do Rzeczy, of which he is a regular contributor and columnist: “My wife and daughter passed the checkpoint, while I was stopped by an officer saying there was something wrong on his computer. He asked me to sit in the seat next to him and, as he said, to wait just a moment. (…) Five minutes turned into an hour, and then another hour passed. First, a few people came and asked questions (…) about my daughter, my date of birth, the countries I had been to, etc. After about two hours, some people showed up and told me to follow them. Then I was searched with my fingerprints and photos taken. (…)”
Ziemkiewicz’s medication, papers and telephone taken away
“I was particularly curious about my diabetes medication because the English lady who interviewed me asked me what type of medication it was and what it was made of. Later, they took those medicines from me because you are not allowed to have your own medicines in that immigration detention facility. I was told that if I felt unwell, they could call an ambulance.
It wasn’t until several hours later that I was admitted to an immigration officer, who actually had no questions to ask me, but told me that he was advising me to change my ticket reservation as I wouldn’t be allowed into the UK anyway because of my political views. I, of course, said that was absolutely not an option.
I also asked what they had against my political views and what they knew about them, but I got no answer. The officer repeated that it was not his own decision, but he was only following orders.
After about an hour, he came back to the detention facility with a paper signed by who knows who, because the signature was illegible. The decision was made that I should be deported and I was escorted to a Polish plane.
My passport was handed over to the plane crew and I discovered something interesting: that a British visa had been affixed to it with the date of 2 October and the number of the immigration officer who had issued it, and then the visa had been crossed out very visibly with a pen. It looks like it had been decided that I would be allowed in, and then someone more influential probably decided to make a fuss and reverse the decision.”
Polish journalists show solidarity with their colleague
The case naturally caused a stir in Poland, where many journalists immediately took up the cause of their colleague:
“This is a reason for serious diplomatic intervention. I am not saying that because it is one of my colleagues. No matter who among Polish columnists and journalists is concerned by this situation, the reaction should be the same, because the causes are most likely issues of freedom of expression”,
“I am shocked by this news. Rafał Ziemkiewicz is one of the most prominent Polish journalists […] Unfortunately, the actions of British officials to date are most worrying. This is in fact an attack in broad daylight on a Polish citizen without any reason being given. Clarification of the situation is now also the responsibility of the Polish authorities.”
The Polish diplomatic services did intervene on his behalf.
“Your views are at odds with British values”
At the time of his deportation, the Polish journalist was handed a document with the letterhead of the British Home Office, with the sender indicated as being the Border Force, Terminal 2, Heathrow Airport. The document reads: “You have sought permission to enter the United Kingdom as a visitor for two days.
However, I consider your expulsion from the United Kingdom is conducive to the public good. This is due to your conduct and views which are at odds with British values and likely to cause offence and therefore make it undesirable for you to be granted entry.
(…) You are therefore refused leave to enter (…) I have given/propose to give directions for your removal to Poland (…)”
Guardian campaign in 2018
The reasons for this incident are apparently to be found in a campaign in 2018 by The Guardian and by the Muslim MP of Bengali origin Rupa Huq, who herself now boasts about being partly responsible for Rafał Ziemkiewicz being turned away this weekend at Heathrow. At the time, Ziemkiewicz had been invited to give several lectures by an association of Poles living in Britain. Alerted by Polish left-wing circles hostile to this journalist, who makes no secret of his conservative, sovereignist and Christian views, British left-wing circles made sure that the tour could not take place. The owners of the conference rooms and even a restaurant owner were pressured and threatened by the British police to cancel all bookings. It looks like the name of Rafał Ziemkiewicz has been kept on some list of unwanted people in a country that was once, in the 18th century, the precursor of liberal democracy in Europe, but now in the 21st century has once again confirmed its place at the forefront of the totalitarian drift of Western liberal democracies.