Poland

Judicial harassment of pro-abortion activist & activists helping refugees at Poland/Belarus border

Poland is increasingly criminalising humanitarian work on the Poland/Belarus border. Activists who previously received small fines for helping refugees are now charged with “organising an illegal border crossing”, which is a criminal offence punishable by eight years in prison. While the Polish government announced that it was allocating funding to NGOs for Ukraine crisis support, the funding, some funding was allocated to the National Guard Association, a far-right organisation that has been advocating for push backs. Further concerning developments on abortion rights took place: the death of a pregnant woman who was denied abortion sparked protests and Justyna Wydrzyńska, a human rights defender from the Polish group Aborcyjny Dream Team, faces up to three years in prison for supporting a pregnant woman who needed a safe abortion. In a positive development, the President vetoed proposed amendments to the law on education (dubbed Lex Czarnek), which would have censored workshops on LGBTQI+ rights and civic education in schools.

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Judicial harassment of pro-abortion activist & activists helping refugees at Poland/Belarus border

Ongoing violations on civic freedoms at Poland/Belarus border; further threats to LGBTQI+ rights

On 1st December 2021, the one-month-long state of emergency introduced in September 2021 along the Polish-Belarusian border expired after having been extended for a further 60 days. Following this, the Polish government installed several replacement measures which maintained restrictions on access to the area of the Poland-Belarus border. There have been concerning civic space developments as a result of the border situation. A police raid was carried out to investigate the activities of a humanitarian aid group, the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, operating near the border. On 15th December 2021, four of their volunteers were interviewed by the police and the group’s phones and laptops were confiscated. Additionally, journalists reporting on the border crisis continue to face arbitrary detentions. New regulations which came into effect state that the local Border Guard Commander has the right to arbitrarily select media workers admitted to the border zone, who will be granted a permit. The regulations in effect raised international concern over transparency and the respect of human rights and media freedom. Additionally, the government has continued to attack LGBTQI+ rights through restrictive legislation. Read more  |  Read in Polish

Ongoing violations on civic freedoms at Poland/Belarus border; further threats to LGBTQI+ rights

Police protection for WHRD after escalating threats; press freedom concerns at Poland/Belarus border

On 7th October 2021, the government controlled Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the Polish constitution trumps EU law, sparking concerns of a “Polexit” (Poland's exit from the EU). The decisions led to massive Pro-EU protests being staged in Poland. The authorities responded to the protests with detentions and physical violence. Nine people were detained, including an LGBTIQ activist, and authorities have taken down the names of 71 people who were protesting. In another concerning development, co-founder of the Polish Women’s Strike, Marta Lempart, has been assigned police protection in public spaces after an escalating threat was made against her life. In another concerning development, on 2nd September 2021, Poland implemented a “state of emergency” at its borders with Belarus, limiting journalists and human rights defenders from accessing the area. Several cases of detention of journalists were documented at the border, raising serious concerns for press freedom. Read more

Police protection for WHRD after escalating threats; press freedom concerns at Poland/Belarus border

Government attempts to muzzle independent media by controversial anti-TVN law

Several concerning developments occurred during this period. The founders of The Atlas of Hate, a website that maps local municipalities that passed anti-LGBTI resolutions or adopted a charter written by the ultra-conservative Catholic organisation Ordo Iuris Institute, are being sued by the so-called “LGBT-free” municipalities. Related to the right to peaceful assembly, in early July 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s ban on public assemblies introduced on 9th October 2020 was illegal and contrary to Article 57 and Article 31 (3) of the Constitution. On 9th July 2021, an indictment against Marta Lempart, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka was announced by the spokesman of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw. The three activists from the Polish Women’s Strike (StrajkKobiet) are accused of causing an epidemiological threat for organising protests during the pandemic in October, November and December 2020 against the government’s near-total abortion ban. In a concerning development for media independence, a highly controversial draft amendment to the Broadcasting Act was adopted in the Sejm on 11th August 2020. The amendment limits media ownership of organisations from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to no more than a 49% stake in any Polish media firm. Known as the ‘Lex TVN’ bill, the amendment will directly affect private broadcaster TVN from the Discovery: American media group, which is extremely critical of the government. Read more

Government attempts to muzzle independent media by controversial anti-TVN law

Teenage pro-abortion protesters targeted for participation; “Hungary style takeover” of media

Several concerning developments were documented during this reporting period. Police continue to target women’s rights activists. In April 2021, well-known activist Katarzyna Augustynek was dragged to a police van for painting crosses and hearts in honour of COVID-19 victims in a square in Warsaw. In the most recent attempt to target protesters, charges have been brought against parents who allowed their children to participate in protests. Separately, thousands gathered in Warsaw for a gay pride parade to celebrate LGBTI persons. However, following concerning developments on LGBTI rights in Hungary, where the parliament adopted a law which bans schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality, Poland's education minister stated that the country may follow a similar approach to further limit LGBTI rights. In relation to developments in freedom of expression, Warsaw District court temporarily suspended approval for the takeover of Polska Press by PKN Orlen, pending review. However, this has not halted PKN Orlen in editorial interference. Eight editors-in-chief in total have been dismissed or pushed out since Orlen acquired the publishing house in March, with other editors resigning due to “ownership changes”. Read more

Teenage pro-abortion protesters targeted for participation; “Hungary style takeover” of media

“I am not safe here”: Women’s rights activists under attack for work on abortion rights

As reported previously, protests have been ongoing since October 2020 when the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) ruled to impose a near-total ban on abortion. In the latest developments in relation to this, womens' rights activists and organisation's advocating for the right to abortion, including the Polish Womens Strike, have been facing violent threats. Threats ranged from bomb threats to death threats sent via email. Messages include “Do you support abortion? Wait, you are about to die!” or “You have five days left”. The senders are alleged to be religious fundamentalists defending “true Catholic values”. In addition, a massive anonymous anti-abortion billboard campaign against women’s rights activists was seen across Poland. In relation to Poland's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, Sejm voted to send the citizens' initiative bill to the parliamentary committee on justice, human rights and foreign affairs for further review. However, leaked government documents expose the government’s plans to replace the Istanbul Convention with an alternative convention which bans abortion and homosexual marriage. Meanwhile independent media and journalists remain under threat. Read more  |  Read in Polish

“I am not safe here”: Women’s rights activists under attack for work on abortion rights

Polish Women’s Strike activists targeted by the state: Our livelihoods and families are under threat

On 27th January 2021 the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling, which outlaws abortion in cases of foetal abnormalities, was published in the Polish Journal of Laws, and came into effect. Following the ruling's enforcement, protesters took to the streets, and demonstrations are expected to continue in the weeks to come. Thus far at least 150 people have been detained during protests. Founders of the Polish Womens Strike have been charged for their role in protests. Police have used execessive force, tear gas, pepper spray, kettling tactics and physical violence. They have also used concerning detention methods which were documented in a recent report by the Polish ombudsperson. Amid these protests, censorship is a concern, with a draft law proposed which aims to prohibit social media platforms from blocking, banning or removing content that does not violate Polish law. In a further threat to press freedom, the government is pushing to introduce an advertising tax which will adversely impact independent media.
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Polish Women’s Strike activists targeted by the state: Our livelihoods and families are under threat

Civic space under threat: protesters intimidated, journalists attacked, LGBTI rights targeted

On 22nd October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion due to foetal abnormality is unconstitutional, sparking massive protests around Poland. Protesters have been met with the use of excessive force, physical violence and detention. In a concerning development, protesters including minors have been intimidated and threatened with charges for participating in protests. Journalists covering protests have faced detentions and the use of excessive force - including being pepper sprayed and beaten by police batons. Meanwhile LGBTI rights remain under attack, with a proposal to ban LGBTI parades and public gatherings submitted to the Polish Parliament. In a "Hungarian style takeover" of independent media, PKN Orlen -- a state-owned oil company -announced the acquisition of Polska Press- one of the country’s largest media publishers with an audience of 17,4 million internet users. The CEO of PKN Orlen, Daniel Obajtek, is said to be a loyal supporter of Law and Justice party president Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Read more  |  Read in Polish

Civic space under threat: protesters intimidated, journalists attacked, LGBTI rights targeted

Government stalls near abortion ban; while women protest leaders face threats to their safety

As reported in our previous update, on 22nd October 2020 the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland ruled to impose a near-ban on abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother is in lethal danger due to her pregnancy. The latest attack on women's sexual and reproductive health rights has led to thousands taking to the streets to protest. On the ninth consecutive day of protests, 30th October 2020, the largest protest since the fall of communism in 1989 was staged in Poland. It is estimated that about half a million people attended demonstrations which took place in various cities across the country. Following almost two weeks of continuous protests, on 3rd November 2020 the ruling PiS party announced that it is delaying the publication of the Tribunal decision and its implementation. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) from the Women's Strike, organisers of protests, report facing continuous threats, to the extent where they cannot return to their homes due to fears for their safety. Several incidents of violence have been documented against protesters and journalists.
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Government stalls near abortion ban; while women protest leaders face threats to their safety

Thousands protest as Constitutional Tribunal imposes a near ban on abortion

On 22nd October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland ruled that access to abortion care on the grounds of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” is unconstitutional. The court’s decision outlaws almost all abortions accept in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother is in lethal danger due to her pregnancy. Poland's abortion laws were already among the strictest in Europe and it is estimated that about 100,000 women seek a termination abroad each year to get around the tight restrictions. Following this ruling , people in Poland have staged protests since 22nd October 2020 across the country. The protests have been joined by a variety of groups including miners, taxi drivers, farmers and trade unions. However, protesters have been met with the use of excessive force, including tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. Thus far, 17 people have been detained, but this figure may be underreported. The Prime Minister has also announced that the miltary will be deployed for COVID-19 emergency reasons. Read more  |  Read in Polish

Thousands protest as Constitutional Tribunal imposes a near ban on abortion