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Poland: Trio back in court over posters showing Virgin Mary with LGBT halo

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By Luke Hurst
Human rights activists with rainbow Mary and Jesus posters outside court during the defendants' first trial in January
Human rights activists with rainbow Mary and Jesus posters outside court during the defendants' first trial in January   -   Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Three activists cleared in Poland earlier this year over posters depicting the Virgin Mary with an LGBT halo are back in court today. 

They were acquitted of "offending religious beliefs" in March, but prosecutors have appealed that verdict. 

Article 196 of Poland’s penal code states that offending people’s religious feelings by publicly outraging an object or place of religious worship is a criminal offence.

The punishment can be up to two years in prison if found guilty.

Amnesty International, calling the case “outrageous”, argues Article 196 “provides overly broad scope for the authorities to prosecute and criminalise individuals, in violation of their right to freedom of expression”.

The three women, named by Amnesty as Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna, were originally charged in July 2020, after Elżbieta was arrested in 2019 following a trip abroad with Amnesty.

They are accused of putting up the posters on 29 April 2019 in public places in the city of Plock.

“What is outrageous in this case is not the image of a rainbow but the fact that these women activists are back in the dock,” said Catrinel Motoc, a senior campaigner in Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office.

“What is shocking in this case is not the women’s promotion or protection of LGBTI rights but the fact that they face up to two years in jail for peaceful activism.

EU clash with Poland over LGBT rights

Poland’s attitude towards the LGBT community has been in the spotlight since 2019 when some local regions declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”.

This led to threats from the European Commission to cut off funding for those regions, causing most of them to back down.

In July the Commission also launched legal action against Poland, and its neighbour Hungary, over equality and the protection of fundamental rights concerning LGBT people.

On Wednesday’s appeal hearing, Motoc said that instead of “dragging these activists back through court, the Polish authorities should be promoting and protecting the rights of LGBTI people who face an increasingly repressive climate of state-sponsored homophobia”.

“This appeal smacks of harassment and intimidation and the case should be dropped.”