“ALTHOUGH not all hateful messages result in actual hate crimes, hate crimes rarely occur without prior stigmatisation and dehumanisation of targeted groups and incitement to hate incidents fuelled by religious or racial bias”

– Special Rapporteur on the United Nations Human Rights Council on minorities, 2015

POLICE in Warsaw detained 48 people following protests connecting with the temporary arrest of LGBT rights activist Malgorzata Szutowicz, better known as Margot, last on Friday night.

Crowds of protesters shouting “Shame, disgrace!” surrounded a police vehicle to try to stop it driving away with the activist inside. Margot was put in pre-trial detention for two months for acts of civil disobedience, including using a knife to cut the tyres and tarpaulin of a van that drives around broadcasting anti-LGBT messages and assaulting the driver by pushing him out of the van.

The vans from the Pro-Right to Life Foundation are a common sight in the centre of Warsaw, blasting homophobic and anti-abortion slogans and plastered with posters linking homosexuality to paedophilia.

Actually, that should be illegal, but the situation is not so straightforward. The Pro-Right to Life Foundation argues this is a freedom of speech issue and ultimately it is the decision of local judges, so in practice it is illegal in Gdansk but not in Warsaw.

Amnesty International’s website reports that in the middle of July, police forcefully entered the apartment where Margot was staying with friends, took her away barefoot, called her anti-gay slurs and questioned her overnight at the police station.

The next day, the prosecutor requested three months pre-trial detention for Margot on charges of participating in a riot, property damage and physical assault, all of which carry multi-year prison sentences. The district court denied that request and released Margot. Prosecutors filed an appeal, and on Friday, according to activist reports, another court issued an order for two months pre-trial detention for Margo on those charges.

Police used rough tactics against protesters, picking up random people who were carrying the rainbow flag or even passersby out for a walk. They stated that officers had been attacked and insulted during the scuffles, and that the 48 “most aggressive” protesters had been detained.

However, Adam Bodnar, Poland’s ombudsman, expressed concern at the detentions and said that actions of the police “required urgent explanation”.

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He has already published an initial report from the arrests, based on conversations with 33 of the 48 detainees.

The report was prepared by the representatives of the National Prevention Mechanism against Torture (NPMs), an organ responsible for eliminating the risk of occurrence of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Findings from the report include arrests of random people, withholding information about the legal basis of arrests, refusals to grant phone calls to family members or legal representation and naked searches.

Anna Maria Zukowska, a member of Polish parliament from the left-wing alliance Lewica also claimed that: “The detained were denied the constitutional right to legal representation, which every citizen has from the moment of arrest, at each stage of the proceedings.”

Margot belongs to a group called Stop the Nonsense, which has also been accused of insulting monuments and offending religious feelings, both of which are crimes in Poland.

They had targeted statues including those of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Warsaw mermaid and – most controversially – a figure of Christ in front of a church on Warsaw’s historic Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

The latter could result in a prison sentence of up to two years. Warsaw police grabbed Margo off the street, handcuffed her, and put her in an unmarked car. The next morning the police detained two other activists with Margo for 48 hours, then released all three of them.

The authorities are also accused of double standards, some are arguing that police and prosecutors routinely ignore far-right figures who promote racism and fascism, which is illegal, while clamping down on LGBT activists.

Unofficially, it is believed that the main purpose of the arrest is to harm Margot. There are calls on social media for her to be raped in prison and to break her and deter her from future activism.

Lawyers say that the legal measures being used against her are disproportionate. Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, called for her immediate release.

Mijatovic tweeted: “Order to detain her for two months sends very chilling signal for #FreedomOfSpeech & #LGBT rights in #Poland.”

Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro defended the police behaviour as appropriate and accused opposition politicians who had supported the protesters of “standing on the side of banditry and hooliganism”.

“Perhaps the knife that was used to destroy the van back then will be used for a bigger crime next time,” he said. “There can be no licence for this type of attack … we have to agree with this and stand together against criminals”.

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The situation in Poland is very tense around LGBT rights. Over the past year, LGBT rights have become one of the main points in Poland’s political discourse, and the Polish government has led a vociferous campaign against “LGBT ideology”, claiming that it is a threat to Polish values and tradition, including the Catholic faith.

The issue also recently became part of the successful re-election campaign of President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling PiS party. During the campaign he said the promotion of LGBT rights was an ideology more harmful than communism. Based on this political climate several cities in Poland have recently declared themselves “LGBT-free” despite a backlash from the European Union.

Very vague blasphemy laws such as Poland’s violate the guarantee of free speech under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. International rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, have underscored that only laws that protect against incitement to violence, discrimination and hatred can justify criminal sanctions.

When on Monday people peacefully protested outside the Polish Consulate in Edinburgh against violence against LGBT people in Poland, an embassy employee was taking photos of the protesters. When photos of the protest were published on Polish diaspora Facebook groups anti-LGBT hate speech was directed at the protesters.