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Poland: Verdict in prosecution of women who put up posters of Virgin Mary with rainbow halo expected

Ahead of the prosecutor’s appeal tomorrow against the decision to acquit three women charged with “offending religious beliefs” for possessing and distributing posters depicting the Virgin Mary with an LGBTI rainbow halo, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner for Europe, Catrinel Motoc, said:

“This case is emblematic of a number of disturbing anti-human rights trends in Poland. Not only is space for free expression, activism and peaceful protest shrinking, but the climate of homophobia in the country is worsening amid an increase in hate crimes, the introduction of LGBTI free zones by local councils and attempts to ban Pride Marches.

“It is bitterly ironic that an act of peaceful activism intended to highlight these trends has led to these three women human rights defenders being dragged through the courts with the threat of up to two years in jail hanging over their heads.

“The women have already been acquitted by courts earlier in March however the authorities are continuing this witch-hunt. Instead of prosecuting these activists for making rainbow posters, the Polish authorities should be respecting and protecting the rights of LGBTI people who face an increasingly repressive climate of state-sponsored homophobia. This appeal smacks of harassment and intimidation and the case should be dropped.”

BACKGROUND

In March 2021, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna were acquitted of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code (C.C.) in relation to the use of posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo symbolic of the LGBTI flag around her head and shoulders.

They were acquitted by the first instance court, but the prosecutor’s appeal brought them to court again, with the hearing scheduled on 8 December 2021.

Article 196 provides overly broad scope for the authorities to prosecute and criminalize individuals, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. As such, it is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations.

The authorities arrested Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International campaigners. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019. In July 2020, the authorities officially charged the three activists, alleging that the posters “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”.

In November 2020, Amnesty International, Campaign Against Homophobia, Freemuse, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe sent a Joint Public Statement urging the Prosecutor General to drop the charges and ensure that the three women are allowed to carry out their human rights work without harassment and reprisals.

More than 275,000 people have joined Amnesty International’s campaign urging the Polish Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights activists.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL WILL BE AT THE HEARING
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Amnesty International press office at [email protected]

Or contact Sarian Jarosz, Amnesty Poland, [email protected]