POLAND – The largest protest movement in post-communist Poland – and going strong

Photo: Police officers are reflected in a mirror held by a protester, Warsaw, 28-01-21
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There have been mass protests in the streets of Polish cities again for several nights running last week. Police tactics have included tear gas, kettling, (trapping protestors in a close circle of police), thus preventing them from moving or leaving, while at the same time demanding that they “disperse” and present Identity Cards in order to be charged for “participating in an illegal gathering”. The police continue to use these tactics even though the courts have so far acquitted all those who were unlawfully identified and charged in previous weeks. One “kettle” on 28 January lasted for seven hours, as the participants refused, for the first time, to provide their ID Cards, saying there were no legal grounds for such an action by the police. It was reported that the police then used violence against them, dragging people into police cars and provoking a dangerous situation. Those who were detained were driven away to local police stations, in some cases as far away as 70 kms from Warsaw, and in seven different towns in total – another tactic to try and disperse the demonstrators.

Klementyna Suchanow, one of the leaders of Polish Women’s Strike, was among those detained. For some two hours the police refused to give out any information about her whereabouts, which made it impossible for her lawyer to provide legal assistance and for the Ombudsman’s office to check the conditions of her detention. She was released at night on 29 January after being charged and tried and found guilty of various acts, including entering the grounds of the Constitutional Court in Warsaw and putting a poster on a door, which she said celebrated the recent liberalisation of the abortion law in Argentina and expressed hope Poland would be next.

A number of media sources have reported that even though fetal anomaly is no longer a legal ground for abortion in Poland, “cases of rape and incest, or when the woman’s life or health are considered to be at risk” remain legal. Whoever is putting this about is trying to mislead people, e.g. a government minister did so in an interview on AlJazeera on 29 January. Before the Constitutional Tribunal ruling in October 2020, almost all the remaining legal abortions in Poland, about 1,000 every year, were for fetal anomaly, according to Karolina Wigura, Professor at University of Warsaw, also interviewed on AlJazeera on 29 January, Now these too are banned, even if the fetus has no chance of survival. Women’s groups have estimated that an additional 200,000 Polish women have an abortion each year either illegally or abroad. Hence, effectively, almost all other abortions are banned. Anti-abortion groups are now proposing law reform to “support disabled people, improve adoption procedures, and provide more support for pregnant women and families”. The hypocrisy is breath-taking.

On 28 January 2021, the Chairs of the Women’s Rights and Civil Liberties committees of the European Parliament called for solidarity with protesters in Poland and reiterated their call for the Polish government to amend their abortion law. Evelyn Regner, Chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality said:

“In Poland, misogyny reigns supreme. The de facto abortion ban pushed through by the Polish government interferes directly with women’s autonomy and physical integrity. It is an attack on fundamental and human rights and should be unthinkable in a liberal democracy in 2021. There is no place for such contempt for humanity in Europe and I stand with the protesters in Poland who are speaking out against this backward-looking policy.”

SOURCES: The Guardian (video), by Reuters, 30 January 2021 ; The Guardian, by AFP in Warsaw, 29 January 2021 ; Times Colonist, 29 January 2021 + PHOTO: AP/Czarek Sokolowski ; E-mail from IPPF-EN, 29 January 2021 ; Al-Jazeera, Upfront, interviews by Richelle Carey, 29 January 2021 ; European Parliament News, Press release, 28 January 2021