Police Violence on the Rise as Protests Continue in Poland
It has been 46 days since thousands of Polish women and supporters took to the streets demanding their right to their own body. This is a direct result of an Oct. 22 Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that provides a near total ban on abortion. The ruling conservative party PiS (Law and Justice) who’s loyalists control the tribunal, banned abortion in cases of congenital fetal defects even when the fetus has no chance of surviving.
The only legal abortions left are in cases of rape or incest, which in itself is hard to prove in a Polish court. This essentially bans abortion in all cases and makes it almost impossible for a woman or person with a uterus to exercise control over their own body without having to seek abortions abroad.
Leader of the PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has even stated in a past interview with the Polish Press Agency that “We aim to make women give birth even in circumstances where pregnancies are extremely difficult, even when the child will die, or is very deformed, so that this child can be baptized and buried. “
2020 isn’t the first year that the people of Poland have experienced an encroachment on their rights. The Women’s Strike movement can be traced back to 2016 when the abortion ban was just being introduced to Polish politics. Those protests, known as the “Black Protests” due to supporters showing up wearing all-black and carrying black umbrellas, gained international attention and inspired the International Women’s Strike. The global attention intimidated the government into striking down the anti-abortion legislation for the time being.
Now, 4 years later the struggle resumes. 46 days of continuous protest and demonstration and the government is not backing down. On Nov. 18, Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the Polish people who were participating in the women’s strike to “Take off your masks with the SS-man thunderbolts” and that “Your demonstrations have cost the lives of many people; you have blood on your hands.”
This statement is ridiculous to Zofia Sikorska, a Journalism student in Poznan who identifies as LGBTQ. “We want full permission to do whatever we want with our bodies,” she said. “I think that Kaczynski is scared and shouting nonsense about the pandemic being our fault now. It is unbelievable, I hope we are going to “abort” him. Our government is lying about nearly everything. Our media is biased. The government funded stations are showing the protesters as Nazis who are destroying churches.”
Police in Poland have also started to show aggression against the protesters and are spurred on by the conservative ruling party. They are using tear gas, batons and methods such as kettling to intimidate protesters, among them journalists and politicians. No one is exempt from police violence. AP Press contributor and photojournalist, Agata Grzybowska, was detained by police on Nov. 23 for a “breach of personal inviolability of a public official.” So far, no evidence has been procured to dignify this charge.
During a Nov. 30, 2020 protest in Warsaw, photojournalist and Rats Agency associate, Antek Mantorski, was attacked by a policeman and beat with a telescopic baton. “I had bruises all over my legs and couldn’t walk for a week,” said Mantorski. “Another week I was sprayed with tear gas in my face.” This is a new reality that journalists in Poland now face. Antek and Agata are just some of many journalists who have been assaulted by police while performing their civic right to act as a press agent.
“In Poland, the biggest threat during these protests is police aggression, “says Mantorski. “At the moment the police aren’t controlling their own actions…You can see that there is an aversion towards people who bear witness and try to document these events.”
On the 102nd anniversary of women in Poland winning their right to vote.. a demonstration was organized by the Women’s strike to commemorate this historic event. The protesters were met by police who attempted to stop the demonstration, saying that the organizers did not fulfill their legal requirement to inform the authorities before staging the protest.
During the police’s efforts to stop the protest, Barbara Nowacka, a member of the Polish Sejm and leader of the United Left, was sprayed in the face with tear gas while showing the police her parliamentary identification card that grants her inviolability as a public official. Other politicians have also been subject to police brutality despite their public official status during the course of the demonstrations.
Several activists were kettled and forcefully removed from the protests. Undercover policemen in plainclothes were seen at the demonstrations with truncheons and batons beating protesters.
In response to police brutality, Warsaw Mayor and liberal opponent of the conservative ruling party, Rafal Trzaskowski tweeted, “The police must abide by the law and cannot misuse violence. This is a matter of citizen safety and trust. As local governments we co-finance the police. However, continuing to break the standards against peaceful demonstrations may force us to suspend this support.”
The Polish people are fearful of the direction that the government is heading. In 2019 before Poland’s general election, the conservative party PiS proposed a new regulatory framework to reform the way journalism operates within the country. The proposal would establish a governmental body that oversees the ethical and professional standards of journalism effectively ending the freedom of press in Poland.
Witnessing the government supported police aggression against journalists and opposing politicians, Antek Mantorski says “Polish people are scared that soon information from us won’t be shared. We need to share this information. Because they are starting to arrest journalists, we are scared that we will lose this voice, and no one will know what’s happening here. People want the information that journalists are gathering to be heard abroad. People are counting that the European Union will somehow react.”
The European Union has so far not enforced any actions against the Polish government aside from stating their support and solidarity with the Women’s Strike movement. Antek further comments that “People are scared that after what happened with Belarus, Poland will be next. That we’ll be cut off from Europe and the government will take complete control.”