'Violent' Arrests Spark Protests Against Polish Government Homophobia

Published by VICE.COM

Summary generated on August 12, 2020

    The arrest of nearly 50 activists in a fiery standoff with police Friday has reignited the simmering culture war over LGBTQ rights in the conservative Catholic country.

    READ: Poland's ruling party is using homophobia to attract voters.

    Friday's incident was sparked when police moved to arrest Szutowicz, a member of the LGBTQ activist group Stop Bzdurom, which has angered conservative politicians with protests in which they have draped rainbow flags over city monuments.

    A court had ordered her to be jailed for two months on remand for suspected criminal damage, stemming from an incident in June where she allegedly slashed the tires of a protest van that disseminates homophobic propaganda - including statements equating gay people with paedophiles - and shoved the van's driver.

    The perceived heavy handedness of the court order prompted hundreds of LGBTQ and left-wing activists to turn out in solidarity at the Warsaw office of Campaign Against Homophobia, where Szutowicz was waiting for police to arrest her.

    She said Szutowicz presented herself to officers for arrest, who told her there was no need to detain her.

    The crowd then moved to a location in central Warsaw, where Szutowicz was arrested by plainclothes officers waiting in an unmarked car.

    READ: Poland's populist government has declared war on the LGBTQ community.

    She said the angry demonstrators then staged a sit-in around the unmarked police car, preventing it from leaving, before police launched an action to clear the protesters, arresting 48 people in chaotic scenes.

    While most of those arrested Friday were released after a day, Szutowicz remains in custody, sparking growing demands from inside Poland and abroad for her release.

    Poland's Commissioner for Human Rights, Adam Bodnar, was also deeply concerned by the police actions, and has launched an investigation into the issue.

    He told VICE News his staff had met with 33 of the 48 arrested during their detention, and found evidence of numerous human rights abuses, with complaints of beatings and brutality by police, signs of bodily injuries and reports of homophobic and transphobic comments by arresting officers.

    READ: Poland's far-right used Independence Day to rally against gay rights.

    He said police could have largely dealt with the situation by taking down details of protesters.

    For Makuchowska and other LGBTQ activists, while recent events have opened a new chapter in their struggle with the Polish government, they have also unleashed a wave of solidarity across the country and internationally that's brought them hope and encouragement.