Three LGBT activists have been detained and charged by police in connection with the hanging of rainbow flags on a number of monuments in Warsaw, including a statue of Christ.
They have been accused of insulting monuments and offending religious feelings, both of which are crimes in Poland. The latter can result in a prison sentence of up to two years.
Opposition politicians have criticised the treatment of the activists, including the fact that two of them were held in detention overnight, as excessive.
However, the police have defended their actions as necessary and legal, after prosecutors began an investigation into the case. Government figures have also condemned the activists, with one minister calling for them to be jailed.
On Tuesday afternoon, police confirmed media reports that two of the activists had been arrested “in relation to offending religious feelings and insulting Warsaw monuments”. They added that “it is only a matter of time before the others are detained”.
Yesterday morning, a third suspect was held, with police then charging all three before releasing them in the afternoon.
One of the organisations behind the hanging of the rainbow flags, Stop Bzdurom, claims that one of the activists arrested on Tuesday was “taken from the street” by undercover policemen in an unmarked car, who did not explain the reasons for her arrest. She and another women were then held overnight.
Stop Bzdurom and two other groups, Gang Samzamęt and Poetka, had targeted statues including those of Polish independence hero Józef Piłsudski, Nicolaus Copernicus and – most controversially – a figure of Christ in front of a church on Warsaw’s historic Krakowskie Przedmieście.
The activists said that their goal was to draw attention to “internalised homophobic attitudes”, as they believe that the rainbow symbol should not in itself offend anyone.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who visited the church after the incident, called their stunt an “act of vandalism” and “aggression under the false disguise of equality” but actually aimed at “further dividing society”.
“There will be no consent to the defilement of national and religious symbols in the name of any ideology,” said Morawiecki. “I will not allow this.”
Marcin Ociepa, a deputy defence minister, told RMF FM that seeing the statue of Christ “profaned…was a painful experience for many people” and called for the offenders to be jailed.
“I believe that for this type of action, one should not get a fine but at least one day in prison, in order to show that there is no consent in the Polish state for this type of action,” said Ociepa.
But opposition politicians, while sometimes expressing disapproval of the actions of the activists, have criticised the authorities for what they see as an excessive response.
Rafał Trzaskowski – the mayor of Warsaw and defeated opposition candidate at last month’s presidential election – said that the hanging of LGBT flags on monuments had been “an unnecessary provocation” on the eve of the 76th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.
But, he asked, “wouldn’t it be better for [police and prosecutors] to keep order and pursue criminals” rather than “prosecuting young activists for hanging a rainbow flag and taking pictures of it”.
“Someone, like me, may not like the idea of this stunt, but detaining people goes beyond the boundaries of the rule of law,” wrote Trzaskowski on Facebook.
Some have also accused the authorities of double standards, arguing that police and prosecutors routinely ignore far-right figures who promote racism and fascism, which is illegal, while clamping down on LGBT activists.
Działania @PolskaPolicja na przestrzeni ostatnich lat:
Funkcjonariusze przymykają oko na treści faszystowskie i rasistowskie, co podkreślał w swoim stanowisku RPO @Adbodnar.
Za wywieszanie tęczowych flag na pomnikach – areszt.
Polska, XXI wiek pic.twitter.com/qPSAT93Ef9
— Patryk Michalski (@patrykmichalski) August 4, 2020
Katarzyna Kotula, a left-wing MP, said that police took no action when nationalists “shouted slogans with unequivocally fascist connotations” at Saturday’s Warsaw Uprising anniversary, yet have detained activists whose actions caused no damage to the memorials in question.
A lawyer for two of the detained activists, Katarzyna Gajowniczek-Pruszyńska, said that the police had acted “disproportionately and inappropriately” by detaining them overnight. They could have been interrogated, charged and released on the same day, she told Gazeta Wyborcza.
LGBT rights group Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH) described the police’s actions as “repression and intimidation against us”, saying that there is “no doubt that it was politically motivated”. “But we won’t give up! We will loudly demand our rights,” tweeted KPH.
‼️ Ponowne represje i zastraszanie: Margot i Łania ze #StopBzdurom zostały zatrzymane przez policję. Nie ma wątpliwości, że było to motywowane politycznie!
🏳️🌈 Władza chce nas zastraszyć. Ale my się nie damy! Będziemy głośno domagać się swoich praw!
🔥 Podaj dalej! pic.twitter.com/xuNzREDRzk
— Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (@KPH_official) August 4, 2020
However, the spokesman for Warsaw’s police, Sylwester Marczak, said that the procedures they followed were both necessary and legal.
“If a case requires questioning a group of people, it is important to conduct it in a way that no one manipulates the proceedings,” he said. For this reason, it was necessary to keep the suspects in detention.
Przemysław Czarnek, an MP from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, praised the police for enforcing laws against offending religious feelings and insulting monuments.
“You simply have to obey the law,” he tweeted. “And if someone doesn’t, this is what the police are for, to hold them accountable. Freedom is freedom, but it also means responsibility.”
Czarnek has been an outspoken critic of what he and PiS refer to as “LGBT ideology”. Earlier this week he declared that it comes from the “same roots as Nazism”.
"There is no doubt that LGBT ideology comes from the same roots as German Nazism, which is responsible for all the evil of WWII and the destruction of Warsaw," says a Polish ruling party MP.
"The left is unable to see that it is exactly the same" https://t.co/kcYGsnCr0k
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 3, 2020
State broadcaster TVP, which is under the influence of PiS, reported that one of the activists detained this week had also recently been held by police in relation to an attack on the driver of a van broadcasting anti-LGBT messages. TVP published a video of the incident.
The Polish government has led a vociferous campaign against “LGBT ideology” over the last year and a half, claiming that it is a threat to Polish values and tradition, including the Catholic faith. The issue also recently became part of the successful re-election campaign of President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.
Last month, three LGBT activists accused of being responsible for producing and distributing images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus with rainbows added to their halos were indicted for offending religious feelings.
Last week, the justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, began taking steps to withdraw Poland from an international convention on preventing violence against women, saying that it “promotes LGBT”.
This week, it emerged that the justice ministry is funding a project on “counteracting crimes…committed under the influence of LGBT ideology”, in particular those that “violate the rights” of Catholics.
Poland's justice ministry is funding a project on "counteracting crimes…committed under the influence of LGBT ideology".
It aims to "show the influence of the LGBT movement in EU countries", its "links to Marxist thought", and how it "violates the rights" of Catholics pic.twitter.com/UU1uqM4TzD
— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) August 5, 2020
Main image credit: Marta Bogdanowicz/Facebook.com/123spacerowicze