Poland's LGBTQ Activists Confront Growing Crackdown

The arrest of a non-binary person on Aug. 7 underscores the growing crackdown against LGBTQ activists in Poland.

Margot Szutowicz, who uses female pronouns, and nearly 50 others were arrested in Warsaw, the country's capital, while protesting Szutowicz's imminent arrest for allegedly causing damage to a truck promoting anti-LGBTQ messages and assaulting a pro-life demonstrator on June 2.

She was initially arrested on the charge on July 14, but released after 24 hours. Prosecutors appealed the case, triggering Szutowicz's current detention.

The advocate is being held for two months awaiting trial on charges that carry multi-year prison sentences. Szutowicz was also arrested on Aug. 2 for draping a rainbow flag over a monument along with two others.

Szutowicz attempted to plan to have her Aug. 7 arrest take place in a public place and in front of the media at the Warsaw offices of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Polish LGBTQ advocacy group, where fellow protesters and supporters joined her. Szutowicz left the office to turn herself over to the police, but law enforcement told her she would not be arrested.

Plainclothes officers waiting in an unmarked car later this night arrested Szutowicz while she was still among the crowd of 50 people. Protestors attempted to block the arrest, but they, along with bystanders, were arrested and taken into custody.

Lawyers on Aug. 8 and 9 coordinated the release of protestors and bystanders who were arrested alongside Szutowicz, but she remains in custody.

Szutowicz is set to be detained in a male facility. She is currently being held in a single-person cell due to coronavirus restrictions.

Szutowicz had been denied access to a lawyer until Thursday. Some of the 50 other people who were arrested on Aug. 7 cited police violence while in detention, including being beaten in police cars and being deprived of food and water, according to ILGA-Europe.

"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," said ILGA-Europe Program Director Björn van Roozendaal. "In circumstances like these, where marginalized members of society are being attacked from all sides, protest and activism are inevitable, and may even be considered provoked by the government's failure to protect their fundamental rights and disproportionate law enforcement responses."

Campaign Against Homophobia Executive Director Slava Melnyk said these processes carried out by the Polish police can be seen as "scaring tactics."

"The government, the police and the prosecutors are trying to impose a chilling effect on the civil society, activists, straight allies, LGBT people in general," he said.

The unrest in Warsaw follows the reelection of President Andrzej Duda, who has been vocally anti-LGBTQ. As part of his presidential election campaign, he publicly signed the Family Charter that outlines no acceptance for same-sex marriages, no adoption of children by same-sex couples, and no education for children on "LGBT ideology" in public institutions, which he described as a being worse than communism.

Duda on June 24 met with President Trump at the White House.

Melnyk said Warsaw in the past has been a relatively LGBTQ-friendly city,

Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski plans to create a homeless shelter for LGBTQ individuals and increase education on diversity and inclusion, Melnyk said. The city has also been the center of Pride festivals in recent years.

Following Szutowicz's arrest, many protesters have been displaying rainbow flags across the city, and are subsequently being arrested for those actions. Melnyk said police on Friday arrested a protester who hung a rainbow flag on the gates of Poland's Justice Ministry.

Organizations such as The European Parliament LGBTI Intergroup, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Council of Europe Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit have all called for Szutowicz's immediate release.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.


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