Image of the LGBT+ Virgin Mary circulated by Elżbieta Podleśna (Amnesty International)
Polish courts have dropped charges against three women accused of “offending religious beliefs” by distributing posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.
After facing two years in jail for their peaceful activism, the women were finally acquitted on Tuesday (2 March) as the court found no evidence of a crime.
“The activists’ activities were provocative, but aimed at drawing attention to the homophobic and harmful decor in the church in Płock. They did it to show that such actions were unacceptable,” the judge said in his verdict, as reported by local news.
“It was not the intention of the activists to insult anyone’s religious feelings or to insult the image of the mother of God. Their actions were aimed at protecting people who were discriminated against.”
He emphasised that LGBT+ people have their place in the church and referred to letters from Catholics who said they weren’t offended by the image of the rainbow halo.
“There are no sexual acts in the painting, and only such acts are considered a sin in the teaching of the Church,” the judge noted.
The three activists were charged under Article 196 of Poland’s criminal code, which gives the authorities broad powers to prosecute and criminalise individuals.
One of the activists, Elżbieta Podlesna, said that police raided her home, seized her possessions, detained and questioned her for several hours.
Her treatment sparked outrage and concern among international activists, and more than 160,000 people signed a campaign to drop the charges as the trial became a test case for freedom of speech under Poland’s deeply conservative government.
Speaking to Polish news outlet Onet after the verdict, Podlesna said she was baffled by the reaction to the poster.
“I still wonder how the rainbow — a symbol of diversity and tolerance — offends these feelings. I cannot understand it, especially since I am a believer,” she said.
Podlesna also expressed concern that Polish law allows people such as herself to be arrested without evidence of a crime.
“The existence of a provision on offending religious feelings in the Penal Code leaves a door open to use it against people who think a bit differently,” she warned.
Amnesty International campaigner Catrinel Motoc agreed. “The charges should never have been brought against these women and it’s absolutely the right decision that they have been acquitted,” she said.
“Targeting activists with such absurd and unfounded charges is part of a much wider pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights activists across Poland.
“The acquittal of these brave human rights defenders shows that the prosecution attempt was nothing more than an intimidation tactic by the Polish authorities,” she continued.
“We urge them to stop using the criminal justice system to target and harass human rights defenders simply because of their activism.”