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Polish police arrest 48 as thousands take to streets to protest arrest of LGBTQ activist

Authorities have been accused of using overly-aggressive measures in response to the demonstrations in Warsaw on Friday (7 August).

By Will Stroude

Police in Poland have made 48 arrests after thousands took to the streets of Warsaw to protest the arrest of an LGBTQ activist.

Demonstations in the Polish capital on Friday (7 August) were sparked by the arrest of Malgorzata Szutowicz, known as Margot, who was taken into police custory after attacking a van from a conservative group which reportedly bore a slogan comparing LGBTQ people to paedophiles.

Margot was a member of the queer activist group ‘Stop Bzdurom’ (Stop Bullsh*t), which in recent weeks has held a series of demonstrations against the rising tide of homophobia in Poland.

The group was responsible for hanging rainbow Pride flags off famous monuments in Poland last week – an act which saw three people arrested.

Friday’s protests began outside the Warsaw headquarters of the Campaign Against Homophobia after a warrant was issued for Margot’s arrest, the group said in a statement.

After police arrested Margot during the protest, a human blockade was formed around the police car she had been put in to prevent it from leaving.

The Campaign Against Homophobia says police escalated the situation and used overly aggressive measures to then disperse the crowd, with pictures from the scene showing various protesters being hold down and carried by officers.

“The police were aggressively pushing the protesters out of the way, knocking people to the ground and holding them down with their boots. Our path was cut off on both sides and a roundup of random people from the crowd began”, the group’s statement read.

Adam Bodnar, Poland’s legal ombudsman, said in a statement that the actions of police “required urgent explanation”, the Financial Times reports.

“In a democratic country ruled by law, all citizens — regardless of any characteristics, such as their sexual orientation or gender identity — should be able to enjoy their rights in full with a sense of security and dignity,” he said.

Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, defended the police, saying that opposition politicians expressing support for the protestors were “standing on the side of banditry and hooliganism”.

The incident comes amid escalating hostility towards LGBTQ people in Poland, where anti-LGBTQ president Andrzej Duda narrowly won re-election last month.

Duda, who vowed to introduce a constitional amendment banning adoption by same-sex couples during his campaign, was re-elected for a second five-year term with 51% of votes.

His first term in office saw increased public hostility towards LGBTQ people in Poland, with self-declared ‘LGBT-free zones’ first being reported in towns across the country in summer 2019.

Since then, the zones, which have no standing in law, have spread to around a third of Poland’s local municipalities.

Last week, a group of opposition Polish MPs generated international headlines after wearing rainbow colours and Pride flag facemasks during the swearing president’s swearing in ceremony, in a poweful show of solidarity for Poland’s LGBTQ community.

We recently spoke to three LGBTQ people currently living in Poland’s ‘LGBT-free’ zones about the increasingly hostile environment they currently find themselves in. Click here to read more.