Responding to the acquittal of three women human rights activists in Poland on charges of ‘offending religious beliefs’ for distributing posters of the Virgin Mary with a halo in the rainbow colors of the LGBTI pride flag, Catrinel Motoc, Senior Campaigner in Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office said:
“These three women have been on trial simply for their peaceful activism, on charges which should never have been brought. They had risked up to two years in prison simply for standing up for LGBTI rights in a climate of hate and discrimination in Poland.
“Distributing posters of the Virgin Mary wearing a rainbow halo should never be criminalized, so it is absolutely correct that they have been acquitted. Targeting these activists with such absurd and unfounded charges is emblematic of, and unfortunately consistent with, a much wider pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights activists all across Poland.
“The acquittal of these brave human rights activists shows that the prosecution attempt was nothing more than an intimidation tactic from by Polish authorities. We urge them to stop using the criminal justice system to target and harass human rights defenders simply because of their activism.”
The three human rights defenders, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna have been tried for ‘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 facing up to two years in prison.
Article 196 provides overly broad scope to the authorities to prosecute and criminalize individuals, contravening their right to freedom of expression. As such, it is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations.
The authorities arrested and detained Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019 and in July 2020, they officially charged the three activists. The Polish authorities alleged that the three activists pasted the posters on April 29, 2019 in public places in the city of Plock and have ‘publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others’.
To date, 160,000 people have joined Amnesty International’s campaign urging the Polish Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights activists.
In November 2020, Amnesty International, Campaign Against Homophobia, Freemuse, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe sent a Joint Public Statement on the case of the three women 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.