Polish human rights activist arrested returning from Belgium
Tuesday, 07 May 2019
Polish human rights activist Elzbieta Podlesna was detained by the Polish authorities for several hours after returning from a visit to Belgium and the Netherlands. During a search of her home, the police found posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. The woman is now suspected of ‘insulting religious beliefs’, but Amnesty International believes that Podlesna’s activism is the real reason for her arrest, according to local media.
She was in Belgium and the Netherlands at Amnesty’s invitation to testify about the increasing pressure on the rule of law in Poland. On Monday morning, the Polish police raided her house. The posters found of the Virgin Mary were hung in the streets of the city of Plock at the end of April.
According to Amnesty, there is no evidence that the woman committed a crime. “Amnesty International is asking the Polish authorities to stop harassing or persecuting peaceful demonstrators and activists. Everyone in Poland must be able to express their opinion freely,” said Wies De Graeve, director of Amnesty International Flanders.
In November 2017, Podlesna and thirteen other women travelled to the annual independence march in the centre of Warsaw. Tens of thousands of people took part in the event, and many carried fascist symbols and chanted racist slogans, according to Het Nieuwsblad, As soon as the 14 ladies unrolled a banner with the slogan ‘Stop Fascism’, they were immediately insulted and physically attacked. One woman lost consciousness. Podlesna, too, was violently attacked, resulting in neck problems.
The 14 activists filed a complaint against the violence, but the public prosecutor initially refused to conduct an investigation. It was not until the beginning of this year that a judge decided that an investigation should be started. Also, the women themselves were prosecuted for ‘hindering a legitimate demonstration’. Nine of them were sentenced to fines. The ladies are now trying to overturn that decision on appeal.