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Court rejects appeal against acquittal of women over anti-religious law

“These three women should never have been put on trial- posters of the Virgin Mary wearing a rainbow halo should never be criminalized”

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Courtesy of Amnesty International

PłOCK, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland – A Polish court this week on Wednesday threw out the appeal by Polish prosecutors over the acquittal of three women who were charged in 2020 for violation of under article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code (C.C.) colloquially referred to as “offending religious beliefs.”

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 offense.

The three woman, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna – whose last names have not been released – were arrested in 2019 and charged the next year after they stuck up posters of the Virgin Mary adorned with a rainbow halo, symbolic of the popular flag used to represent the LGBTQ+ community. Had they been convicted they face up to two years in prison each.

“This case is emblematic of a number of disturbing anti-human rights trends in Poland. Not only is space for free expression, activism and peaceful protest shrinking, but the climate of homophobia in the country is worsening amid an increase in hate crimes, the introduction of LGBTI free zones by local councils and attempts to ban Pride Marches,” Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner for Europe, Catrinel Motoc, said.

“Today’s decision comes as a huge relief but cannot disguise the fact that these three women should never have been put on trial in the first place. Distributing posters of the Virgin Mary wearing a rainbow halo should never be criminalised, so it is right that the appeal against their acquittal was rejected,” Motoc added.

LGBTQ+ rights have become a deeply divisive issue in predominantly Roman Catholic Poland. Religious conservatives condemn what they say is an “ideology” bent on destroying the traditional family while more liberal Poles demand tolerance and equal treatment of what they regard as an oppressed minority, Euronews noted.

In March 2021, Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna were acquitted of “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 acquitted by the first instance court, but the prosecutor’s appeal brought them to court again, with the hearing scheduled on 8 December 2021.

“Article 196 provides overly broad scope for the authorities to prosecute and criminalize individuals, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. As such, it is incompatible with Poland’s international and regional human rights obligations,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The authorities arrested Elżbieta in 2019 after she took a trip abroad with Amnesty International campaigners. The authorities opened an initial investigation against her in May 2019. In July 2020, the authorities officially charged the three activists, alleging that the posters “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”.

In November 2020, Amnesty International, Campaign Against Homophobia, Freemuse, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe sent a Joint Public Statement urging the Polish 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.

More than 275,000 people had joined Amnesty International’s campaign urging the Polish Prosecutor General to drop the unfounded charges against the three women human rights activists.

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Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine to celebrate Pride

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

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Kharkiv Pride (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Activists in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv will hold a series of Pride events in the coming days.

A press release that Kharkiv Pride released notes events that will take place from Saturday through Sept. 25 include a march, a performance that highlights efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ukraine and a “Memorial Day” for “LGBTQI+ people killed by the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv Pride and Kharkiv with You Charitable Foundation, a local NGO, will also hold “a crowdfunding campaign to collect money for the needs of women serving near Kharkiv.” 

“Just as Kharkiv stands at the forefront of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy, Kharkiv Pride actively resists at the forefront of the battle for human rights,” said Kharkiv Pride. ” Because this is our principal position, and this is the difference between Ukraine and the totalitarian regime of the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have recaptured large swaths of territory east of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control. Kharkiv Pride will also take place less than two months after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships law

Volodymyr Zelenskky responded to Kyiv Pride petition

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A participant in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022, indicates her support for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskky, has publicly endorsed a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky on Tuesday said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Kyiv Pride backed a marriage equality petition that was submitted to Volodymyr Zelenskky on July 12 with more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the legal threshold that requires him to consider it. 

Zelenskky in his response to the petition notes his support for marriage equality, but acknowledges the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and it cannot be amended while the country is under martial law. Zelenskky on Tuesday nevertheless directed his government to submit a report on whether same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships through the country’s existing legal framework or a bill that would go through Parliament.

“I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine with a request to consider the issue raised in the electronic petition and report about the relevant results,” said Zelenskky.

Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and Yulia Mulyukina, a lesbian couple who once lived in the Ukrainian city of Dniper, are among the millions of people who have fled the country since Russia began its war on Feb. 24. Baraniuk and Mulyukina last month told the Washington Blade in Berlin the fact that they are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship has prevented them from asking for asylum in the U.S. and Canada because the countries’ immigration systems are based on whether they are married or “common-law partners” respectively.

“Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Kyiv Pride on Tuesday welcomed Zelenskyy’s announcement.

“Congratulations to the community, the Pride movement,” tweeted Kyiv Pride. “Thank you to the authorities.”

Maksym Eristavi, who chairs Kyiv Pride’s board of directors, desribed Zelenskyy’s announcement as “historic.”

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Eastern Europe

LGBTQ+ pride parade in Bucharest draws ten thousand plus people

Dancing & waving rainbow, trans, and progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation that would ban future Pride gatherings

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Screenshot/YouTube Euronews

BUCHAREST, Romania – Supporters and activists of the LGBTQ+ movement numbering an estimated ten thousand people took part in Bucharest Pride 2022, marching along Calea Victoriei to Izvor Park in the city’s center Saturday afternoon into evening.

Pride was organised by ACCEPT, the non-governmental human rights organization in Romania that defends and promotes LGBTQ+ rights.

Dancing and waving rainbow, trans, and LGBTQ+ progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation in the Parliament of Romania that could potentially endanger future LGBTQ+ Pride parades and foster further anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

A bill already approved by one body of lawmakers in Parliament would bans so-called “gay propaganda” in schools, mirroring similar legislation in Hungary and Russia.

EURONEWS Romania: Bucureștiul, scena a două marșuri, Bucharest Pride și „Marșul pentru normalitate”:

(Romanian language broadcast)
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