The Rolling Stones perform during a concert at The Velodrome Stadium in Marseille on June 26, 2018, as part of their 'No Filter' tour. Poland's anti-communist freedom icon Lech Walesa has urged the band to support Poles 'defending freedom' on their upcoming concert on Sunday. (AFP/Boris Horvat)
Poland's anti-communist freedom icon Lech Walesa on Saturday urged legendary rockers the Rolling Stones to support Poles "defending freedom" amid sweeping judicial reforms that critics insist undermine democracy.
The band are due to perform a concert in Warsaw on Sunday, where thousands have protested in the last week over a controversial law passed by the Law and Justice (PiS) government that has forced dozens of senior judges to retire early.
"Many people in Poland are defending freedom, but they need support. If you can say or do anything while in Poland, it would really mean something to them," Walesa said in Facebook post addressed to "Mr. Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones".
Walesa's appeal follows turmoil over the forced early retirement of the Poland Supreme Court's chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who rejected the move as unconstitutional.
The European Union has criticised the law change as a threat to the country's judicial independence.
Walesa, who negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland in 1989, told the Stones that "bad things are happening in Poland right now".
- 'This is not freedom' -
"We dare ask for your attention because of the memories of outstanding, courageous people who fought for freedom in the Eastern Bloc," he said.
Under communism, eastern Europeans "sacrificed much for freedom of speech. For freedom of the arts. They understood that for the protection of liberties, the courts must be independent from the government... You knew such individuals. (Czech dissident) Vaclav Havel was one of them," he added.
"Today, the fruits of their work are in peril," said Walesa, who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize as leader of the freedom-fighting Solidarity trade union, the communist bloc's only independent labor union.
Senior PiS politicians, however, allege that Walesa was a secret communist agent working for the regime, a claim he flatly denies.
Tens of thousands of Poles have hit the streets since the PiS government came to power in 2015, protesting against its judicial reforms and attempts to tighten Poland's already strict abortion law, among other causes.
Calling the PiS government "the current regime", Walesa said it "wants to destroy the independence of courts in Poland.
"Last year, it incapacitated the Constitutional Court. Now, in clear violation of the constitution, it is firing a third of Supreme Court justices in order to install puppets."
"THIS IS NOT FREEDOM," Walesa told the Stones, who played their first concert in Poland in 1967, making them one of the first Western bands to perform behind the Iron Curtain.
In December, the European Union triggered Article Seven proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law, which could eventually see Warsaw's EU voting rights suspended.