Call for action regarding the failure of the Polish authorities to protect the participants of the Equality March in Białystok from bias-motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Lambda Warszawa is the oldest Polish LGBT organization (est. 1997) and the largest provider of support services for LGBT people, particularly victims of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and people with mental health issues.
Representatives of Lambda Warszawa, together with hundreds of other people, participated in the Equality March in Białystok on Saturday 20 July. The March was a peaceful gathering in support of human rights and the first Pride-type event organized in the Podlaskie voivodeship in Poland. It was organized by the Rainbow Białystok Association (Stowarzyszenie Tęczowy Białystok), which endorses this statement.
The event was announced several months in advance and the information about the planned date, time and route of the event was submitted to the relevant authorities at the earliest opportunity, according to the requirements of the Law on Assemblies. The organizers of the March were in contact with the municipality and the police and made the authorities aware of the type of the event, number of participants, route, and the possible risks associated with the March. In particular, it was known that the security risks were heightened due to the fact that:
- Numerous people in positions of authority, including the Marshal of the Podlaskie Voivodeship and the Archbishop of Białystok, made public calls against the organization of the Equality March in Białystok, tried to have the march banned by the Mayor of Białystok and, failing that, encouraged members of the public to protest against it;
- Football hooligans from different towns, known for using violence, signed a ‘non-aggression’ pact and announced that they were joining forces to ‘protect’ Białystok from LGBT people;
- People participating in recent Equality Marches in other towns, particularly in the east of Poland, have been attacked by members of the public, including right-wing extremists, before, during and after the events; the police should be aware of these assaults;
- There is an ongoing campaign, led by members of the ruling party and right-wing media, vilifying LGBT people and falsely accusing them of “sexualizing children” and likening homosexuality to paedophilia;
- In recent months, anti-LGBT resolutions have been adopted by nearly 30 local governments, including Lesser Poland, Lublin, Podkarpacie and Świętokrzyskie Voivodeships, as well as 10 poviats and 12 communes;
- In recent years, several cases of assaults on visible minorities, including recent migrants, refugees and LGBT people in Białystok have been publicized;
- This was the first time a Pride-type event was organized in this part of Poland.
Considering the above, the authorities cannot possibly have been unaware of the risks and should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of march participants. Nonetheless:
- The police allowed for aggressive groups of protesters to gather in the place where the March was starting; the protesters pelted arriving March participants with objects, including rocks, bottles and firecrackers, and physically attacked them;
- According to many accounts published by the media and March participants themselves, the police physically blocked access to the gathering point for many arriving persons, leaving them in immediate danger of violence from aggressive protesters gathered around;
- When the March finally started, the police numbers were insufficient, and in consequence the cordon at the rear of the March had gaps; this allowed protesters to physically assault March participants during the event;
- According to many accounts, the police did not react to some cases of physical assaults which they saw, including when directly asked for help by victims;
- The police did not ensure the safety and security of all March participants on the streets after the event, allowing for organized groups of violent hooligans to hunt for March participants;
- According to personal accounts, some Equality March participants trying to access the area of the family picnic, organized by the Marshal as a counter to the March, were denied access due to participation in the March.
There are multiple accounts online, including videos and testimonials, reporting cases of verbal abuse and physical violence against people and objects, such as Pride flags. One of the persons attacked is a journalist with the OKO.press news service. Another – assaulted with a baseball bat, fortunately escaping without physical harm – is Lambda Warszawa Board Member. Police officers were also attacked. Some of the attacked persons have already reported the assaults to the police, while others are currently in the process of reporting. Most victims, however, as is often case in hate crimes, will probably never come forward. Over 90 persons have been detained. Links to sources are provided below.
Considering the above, Lambda Warszawa, together with 16 other organizations supporting this statement, call upon the European Commission to stand together with the oppressed LGBTI community in Poland and affirm that LGBTI rights, including the right for peaceful assembly and freedom from violence, are fundamental rights, core to the EU value system.
Specifically, we call upon the Commission to:
- Strongly and unequivocally condemn the acts of violence against persons participating in the Equality March in Bialystok as crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Express concern over reports that the March was not sufficiently secured by the police and that too few police officers were assigned to ensure its security; in particular, the police did not provide participants with the possibility of safe and free entry to the square on which the meeting began and did not properly secure the rear of the assembly during the March;
- Condemn all manifestations of hate speech against LGBT people in Poland, especially by political figures and other people with public platforms; in particular, condemn the negative remarks about “LGBT ideology” and other examples of hate speech made by high-ranking government officials, members of the ruling PiS party, dignitaries of the Catholic Church and right-wing media;
- Condemn anti-LGBT resolutions adopted by local governments as discriminatory, a restriction of freedom of movement and violating the values and fundamental rights upon with the EU was founded;
- Prioritize the closing of gaps in anti-discrimination legislation at the EU level, facilitate the adoption of common rules on online and offline hate speech, and adopt a comprehensive LGBTI strategy to guide the work of the Commission.
- Call upon the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Justice, the Voivode of Podlasie and the Marshal of Podlasie to uphold the freedom of assembly and condemn the attacks on the March in Białystok as crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Call on the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Justice to ensure that:
- all cases of assaults during the march reported to the police will be treated as hate crimes, and investigated and prosecuted ex officio, without the need to make private complaints by victims;
- prosecutors apply for higher penalties taking into account the motivation based on prejudice and hate, and the high social harmfulness of the acts;
- all investigations will be carried out as quickly, efficiently and thoroughly as possible, in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights;
- all victims and witnesses receive adequate protection and support in accordance with Directive 2012/12/EU on the rights of victims;
- Call upon the Minister of Education to ensure protection of LGBT children from discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and embed non-biased anti-discrimination and sexual education activities in school curricula;
- Call upon the government and parliament to pass, as soon as possible, legislation on hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, in line with the position expressed during the Universal Periodic Review in 2012 and 2017 and in line with the recommendations of numerous international human rights bodies.
This statement is supported by:
- Stowarzyszenie Tęczowy Białystok (organizer of the Equality March in Białystok)
- European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe)
- All Out
- Stowarzyszenie Miłość Nie Wyklucza
- Fundacja Instytut Otwarta Przestrzeń
- Stowarzyszenie Marsz Równości w Lublinie
- Stowarzyszenie Sistrum – Przestrzeń Kultury Lesbijskiej*
- Kultura Równości
- Federacja Znaki Równości
- Prowincja Równości
- Kampania Przeciw Homofobii
- Fundacja Równość.org.pl
- Stowarzyszenie Queerowy Maj
- Fundacja Pro Diversity
- Queer UW
- Stowarzyszenie Pracownia Różnorodności.
The following organizations endorsed the call after it was sent to the Commission:
1. Lambda Szczecin.