- Protests focused on the arrest of non-binary activist Margo Szutowicz but mark frustration with years of mounting LGBT+ hate.
Thousands of LGBT+ people and allies waving rainbow flags have protested in Warsaw, Poland on Friday and Saturday – resulting in police brutality.
Commentators say the events are a possible ‘Stonewall moment’ for Poland as people stood up to two years of mounting LGBT+ hate.
The last two years have seen Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) attack LGBT+ people in election campaigns to shore up its populist support.
Meanwhile around a third of the country has declared itself an ‘LGBT Free Zone’.
Moreover last week also saw the swearing in of President Andrzej Duda. His re-election campaign had been marked by particularly aggressive anti-LGBT+ rhetoric and pledges to crack down on LGBT+ rights.
Crowds attempt to stop police arresting activist
Friday (7 August) saw protestors trying to stop police from jailing an activist called Margot Szutowicz.
She is a member of the activist group Stop Bzdurom. The group hung Pride flags and put pink face masks on a statue of Jesus last week and other sculptures around Warsaw, the Polish capital.
The authorities also accuse Szutowicz of damaging a truck belonging to an anti-abortionist in June. Right wing campaigners were using the truck to spread false anti-LGBT+ propaganda.
Szutowicz, who is non-binary and uses female pronouns, received a two month detention order to prevent her from ‘further action’.
This sparked a spontaneous solidarity demonstration. Campaigners also broadcast the protest, outside Warsaw offices of the Campaign Against Homophobia, as a live stream on Facebook.
During it Szutowicz attempted to surrender to the police officers present. However, they refused to detain her when witnesses and media were present.
At one point, Szutowicz and protestors shifted their action to Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street. She then addressed the crowds through a megaphone calling the demonstration an unofficial Pride.
Police swarmed over demonstrators, many of whom were sitting on the ground. They also allegedly drove a car into the crowd. Demonstrators reported police brutality and the officers arrested over 50 people, refusing them access to lawyers.
Instead, plain clothes officers, in an unmarked car, arrested Szutowicz later in a different location. And that led to further civil unrest.
Meanwhile it emerged that they are planning to detain Szutowicz in a men’s facility.
Thousands gather to demand ‘Give us Margot back’
The crowds gathered again – in even greater numbers – on Saturday (8 August).
Thousands massed outside Warsaw’s Palace of Culture. The protestors chanted ‘Give us Margot back’ and ‘Rainbow does not insult you’.
Meanwhile they cheered when activists displayed another Pride Flag on a statue in front of the palace.
The police watched on and filmed the protestors and their leaders.
They started releasing the protestors they had detained the previous day – but not Szutowicz.
The commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, called for her immediate release in a tweet saying:
‘Order to detain her for two months sends very chilling signal for freedom of speech and LGBT rights in Poland.’
Moreover, Björn van Roozendaal, programmes director at LGBT+ organization ILGA-Europe, said:
‘The LGBTI community is being denied the right to exist by the leading political party.
‘LGBTI people in Poland live in a situation of constant, repressive pressure with no access to justice or state protection.
‘Let us not forget this is happening in an EU country where the human rights of all citizens are deeply rooted in law.’
And Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:
‘Polish authorities should immediately stop targeting activists who exert their basic free expression rights. Scapegoating and targeting a vulnerable minority is becoming a routine and nasty part of the government’s playbook, with dangerous repercussions for human rights.’
However, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, said authorities had to act or face ‘even more violent’ attacks by activists.