The following information is based on the Amnesty International Report 2020/21. This report documents the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2020, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty lnternational’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others. During 2020, the world was rocked by COVID-19. The pandemic and measures taken to tackle it impacted everyone, but also threw into stark relief, and sometimes aggravated, existing inequalities and patterns of abuse.


The authorities continued to erode the independence of the judiciary. COVID-19 measures served as a pretext to crackdown on peaceful protesters and to restrict access to asylum. Criminal charges were used to curtail freedom of expression. LGBTI rights remained under attack. Authorities attempted to further restrict access to abortion.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 2020 Presidential election was postponed until July 2020 and partially held by postal vote. In response to the pandemic, in March, the government introduced a total ban on public assemblies; in May, assemblies of up to 150 people were permitted; in October, only up to 10 or 25 people were allowed to assemble, depending on zones. Legislation intended to support businesses and workers affected by the pandemic included amendments on unrelated matters. This included enhanced penalties for illegal abortion and for insulting the President.

State overreach − independence of the judiciary

The government continued to implement legal and policy changes that undermined the independence of the judiciary.

Parliament adopted a new law in January imposing severe restrictions on judges’ rights to freedom of expression and association.1 The law prohibits judges from questioning the credentials of judges appointed by the President. The state’s Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner sought to initiate disciplinary proceedings in August against 1,278 judges who had asked the OSCE to monitor the presidential election.

International scrutiny also continued. A number of cases against Poland regarding attacks on the judiciary were pending before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and threats to human rights in Poland.

In April 2020, the CJEU issued an order for interim measures requiring the government to immediately suspend its new system of disciplinary proceedings against judges. The authorities, however, continued to refuse to implement this ruling and the Supreme Court carried on examining such disciplinary cases. The Deputy Minister of Justice stated that the CJEU had violated Poland’s sovereignty by intervening in its domestic affairs.

In September 2020, the ECtHR formally requested a response in the case of judge Igor Tuleya who was challenging disciplinary proceedings against him as violations of his rights to private life and freedom of expression. The Disciplinary Prosecutor initiated the proceedings against Igor Tuleya in 2018. He had, among other things, submitted a request for a preliminary ruling from the CJEU on whether the new national legislation that undermined the independence of the judiciary was compatible with EU law.

Freedom of assembly

Peaceful anti-government protesters continued to face fines and detention, amidst COVID-19 measures used to crack down on some protests beyond what was necessary to protect public health.2

In May 2020, during the electoral campaign, police arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters simply for protesting in the streets and imposed heavy fines. The police especially targeted with fines protesters demanding respect for the independence of the judiciary and those criticizing the lack of support for small companies during the COVID-19 lockdown. The authorities imposed fines against peaceful protesters outside the Trójka state radio station who were opposing censorship of a song.

Freedom of expression and association

Two activists were charged in June with “theft and burglary” for replacing advertisements on bus shelters with posters that accused the government of manipulating COVID-19 statistics.3 They faced up to 10 years in prison, with the case pending at year’s end.

In July 2020, human rights defender Elżbieta Podleśna was indicted for “offending religious beliefs” for allegedly possessing and distributing posters and stickers depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.

The Minister of Justice and Minister of Environment proposed a law in August requiring NGOs to declare any sources of foreign funding and to publish them in a public register.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people

Widespread anti-LGBTI rhetoric from politicians persisted.

In July 2020, the President signed an anti-LGBTI rights pamphlet before the election called the “Family Charter”, which pledged to ban marriage equality, adoption of children by LGBTI people and LGBTI education in schools.

Police arrested 48 LGBTI activists in August during a peaceful protest against a prominent activist’s pre-trial detention. They faced charges for “participation in an illegal gathering”. The investigation was continuing at year’s end.

Since March 2019, about 100 local authorities had adopted discriminatory anti-LGBTI resolutions, including resolutions explicitly “against LGBTI ideology”; some refer to “traditional values” or “family rights”. In July, the European Commission rejected six town-twinning applications because local authorities had declared so-called LGBTI-free zones or had adopted “family rights” resolutions. In September, the head of the European Commission stated that so-called LGBTI-free zones were in fact “humanity-free zones” that had no place within the European Union.

According to a report published in May by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 15% of LGBTI people in Poland had experienced a physical attack or sexual violence in the last five years. This was the highest rate in the EU. Most reported attacks on LGBTI people resulted in no prosecution.4

Sexual and reproductive rights

Sexual and reproductive rights remained under attack.

A parliamentary debate was scheduled for April 2020 to address two “citizens’ initiatives” that would set criminal penalties for sex education in schools and would further restrict access to abortion.5 Large protests took place, held virtually or while respecting physical distancing owing to COVID-19. Members of Parliament voted to send the bills to parliamentary committees, postponing the debates.

In July 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced a plan to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty on violence against women. The government openly lobbied other countries to withdraw as well. The Prime Minister announced a plan to have the Constitutional Court examine the Convention’s compatibility with the Polish Constitution, claiming that the Convention was “harmful” because it “contains elements of an ideological nature”.

In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that access to abortion on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life” are unconstitutional. The Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling will mean an almost total ban on abortion in the country.

Rights of refugees and asylum-seekers

In April 2020, the CJEU ruled that Poland had failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law by refusing to relocate asylum-seekers under the EU relocation scheme.

The ECtHR ruled against Poland in July 2020 concluding that the situation at border crossing points amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment because the authorities refused to receive asylum applications and conducted summary removals that put some people at risk of being forcibly transferred to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations (refoulement).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office for Foreigners suspended direct customer services and there were some limitations on the submission of asylum applications at border crossings.

  1. Poland: Judges and lawyers from across Europe protest judicial takeover in Warsaw (News story, 9 January)
  2. Poland: COVID-19 is no excuse to crack down on protests (EUR 37/2421/2020)
  3. Poland: Activists at risk of 10-year jail term for COVID-19 poster campaign challenging government statistics (News story, 11 June)
  4. Polki i Polacy chcą, by przestępstwa motywowane homofobią i transfobią były rozpoznawane przez państwo (in Polish only, translates as ‘Polish people want crimes motivated by homophobia and transphobia to be recognized by the state’) (News story, 24 September)
  5. Poland: Abortion ban and regressive sexuality education laws must not be rushed through under cover of COVID-19 (News story, 14 April)


Poland Newsroom

April 10, 2022 • Press Release

New Evidence of Abuses in Poland & Belarus Highlights ‘Hypocrisy’ of Unequal Treatment of Asylum-Seekers

The Polish authorities have arbitrarily detained nearly two thousand asylum-seekers who crossed into the country from Belarus in 2021, and subjected many of them to abuse, including strip searches in unsanitary, overcrowded facilities, and in some cases even to forcible sedation and tasering, Amnesty International said today.

March 22, 2022 • Press Release

Polish Authorities Must Act to Protect People Fleeing Ukraine from Further Suffering

The Polish authorities must relieve volunteers from the responsibility of receiving people fleeing from Ukraine and address the chaotic and dangerous situation in Poland to ensure that they do not face further suffering, said Amnesty International after the organization concluded a 10-day visit to the country.

December 20, 2021 • Press Release

New evidence of brutal violence from Belarusian forces against asylum-seekers and migrants facing pushbacks from the EU

Asylum-seekers and migrants trying to enter the EU from Belarus and facing pushbacks and other human rights violations on the Polish border, are subjected to horrific torture or other ill-treatment, inhumane conditions, extortion and other abuse at the hands of Belarusian forces, new evidence gathered by Amnesty International reveals.

December 1, 2021 • Press Release

“Exceptional Measures” Normalize Dehumanization of Asylum Seekers in Europe

In response to today’s proposals from the European Commission which would allow Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to derogate from EU rules, including by holding asylum-seekers and migrants at the border for 16 weeks with minimal safeguards, Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Office said: “The arrival of people at the EU’s borders with Belarus is entirely manageable with the rules as they stand. Today’s proposals will further punish people for political gain, weaken asylum protections, and undermine the EU’s standing at home and abroad. If the EU can allow a minority of member states to throw out the rule book due to the presence of a few thousand people at its border, it throws out any authority it has on human rights and the rule of law.

April 16, 2020 • Report

Mass protests in Europe provide hope as rights and judicial independence eroded

People’s rights are being violated by governments in Europe and Central Asia, who are cracking down on protests and seeking to erode the independence of the judiciary to avoid accountability, …

December 9, 2018 • Report

Oppressive, sexist policies galvanize bold fight for women’s rights in 2018

Women activists around the world have been at the forefront of the battle for human rights in 2018, Amnesty International said today as it launched its review on the state …

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

September 16, 2015 • Report

Targeted by Hatred, Forgotten by Law

Poland’s legal system falls dangerously short when it comes to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and other minority groups from hate crimes, Amnesty International said in a new report today less than two months ahead of general elections.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 23, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Poland 2013

Republic of Poland Head of state Bronislaw Komorowski Head of government Donald Tusk The investigation of Poland's involvement in US-led renditions and secret detentions progressed slowly. Public access to information …