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Poland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. While domestic violence is illegal and courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.

On September 16, the Council of Europe’s Expert Group on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence published its first evaluation report on the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (so-called Istanbul Convention). The report praised a November 2020 law that introduced an immediate restraining order that may be issued by police who respond to a domestic dispute. Under the new law, the perpetrator must immediately leave the location where the violence took place. The Women’s Rights Center noted that during the first six months since the law’s entry into force, police used the new mechanism in only a small fraction of documented instances of domestic violence. According to the foundation, this may indicate police were not properly trained in the use of the new mechanism. The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents, sometimes arguing there was no need for police intervention. The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.

Centers for survivors of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to survivors; training for personnel who worked with survivors; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law obliges both central and local governments to provide citizens with unrestricted access to methods and means serving “conscious procreation,” implemented by the government as gynecological counseling for women and girls and access to contraception. While there were no legal restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, a patient’s ability to obtain them was limited, according to NGOs. The Federation for Women and Family Planning noted the government excluded almost all prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, making them less affordable, especially for poor women in rural areas. The law also provides that doctors may refrain from performing health services inconsistent with their conscience. According to a 2020 report by the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, doctors regularly used the conscience clause to refuse to write prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also noted that some pharmacies did not stock or sell contraceptives.

The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. Although women have the right to comprehensive medical services before, during, and after childbirth, home birth, while legal, is not subsidized by the National Health Fund. Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion. According to the Childbirth with Dignity Foundation, standards for perinatal and postnatal care written into the laws are adequate, but the government failed to enforce them effectively. A 2018 report by the Supreme Audit Office indicated women living in rural areas had limited access to medical services related to childbirth due to an insufficient number of gynecological and obstetric clinics in smaller towns and villages.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception for survivors of rape. According to women’s rights NGOs, access was limited due to survivors’ fear of social stigma, some legal constraints, and the use of the conscience clause by medical doctors who refused to provide such services. According to a September report by the Council of Europe Expert Group on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the country lacked rape crisis and sexual violence centers offering medical care, high-quality forensic examination, and immediate short- and long-term trauma support delivered by trained professionals.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).

Anti-Semitism

The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000, while other estimates, including by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, put the number as high as 40,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including a synagogue and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on television and social media. Some Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding the physical safety and security of their members. During the year there were several attacks on Jewish properties and houses of worship.

On April 20, a member of the lower house of parliament from a small opposition party, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, referred to Adolf Hitler in a video posted online as “a great, in fact the greatest, European socialist” and argued there was no evidence Hitler was aware of the Holocaust.

On January 12, police detained three men who painted neo-Nazi symbols on the outer wall of the Jewish cemetery in Oswiecim (the town adjacent to the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau). On January 13, the local prosecutor’s office charged two of the men with public promotion of fascism and the third with destruction of a monument (the cemetery wall is registered as a provincial monument). At year’s end, the men were not in pretrial detention and their trial had not been scheduled.

On June 26, three teenagers vandalized 67 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in the town of Bielsko-Biala. Some tombstones were broken and others were tipped over. On June 28, police identified the perpetrators and handed the case over to the family court.

On October 5, anti-Semitic graffiti were found on nine wooden barracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau former concentration camp. The graffiti included statements in English and German and two references to Old Testament sayings frequently used by anti-Semites. Police were searching for perpetrators at year’s end.

On November 11, an anti-Semitic demonstration occurred in the city of Kalisz. Participants burned a book symbolizing the Statute of Kalisz, a 13th-century document that regulated the legal status of Jews in Poland and granted them special protections. Some march participants also chanted “Death to Jews.” On November 14, President Duda responded on his Twitter account, writing: “I strongly condemn all acts of anti-Semitism. The barbarism perpetrated by a group of hooligans in Kalisz contradicts the values on which the Republic of Poland is based. And in view of the situation on the border and propaganda campaigns against Poland, it is even an act of treason.” On November 15, Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski announced police had detained three men for allegedly organizing the march. The men were charged with public incitement to hatred, public insult on national grounds, and public incitement to commit crimes against persons based on their national and religious identity. They spent two weeks in pretrial detention and then were released on bail.

According to the Never Again Association, anti-Semitic discourse appeared in the public sphere and on social media, in particular during the legislative process of revisions to the Code of Administrative Procedure, which affected the restitution process. For example, on July 10, former anti-Communist oppositionist Andrzej Michalowski participated as a guest in a debate on state-run public radio and said the Jewish lobby was trying to interfere with legislation affecting heirless property. A trial of six persons accused of publicly promoting Nazism in 2017 by organizing a celebration of Hitler’s birthday in a forest, donning Wehrmacht uniforms, and burning a swastika continued at year’s end. The incident was secretly filmed and later broadcast by undercover television journalists. The main organizer of the event, a member of the neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity Association, pleaded not guilty, claiming the event was private. In 2019 in a separate case, the Gliwice regional court decided to dissolve Pride and Modernity, stating that the event was tantamount to approval or even affirmation of Hitler and Nazism.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The government plenipotentiary for equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals and groups. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTQI+ questions. The ombudsperson also continued to work on LGBTQI+ human rights cases.

During the year some government officials made anti-LGBTQI+ or homophobic public statements. On June 23, Education and Science Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek criticized participants in LGBTQI+ pride parades for causing “public demoralization” and promoting “deviancy.” He said that those who participated in such parades “do not have the same public rights” as “a person behaving in accordance with standards and norms, who does not demoralize.” On June 28, Czarnek said the country should adopt a law that prohibits schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality.

During the year there were several physical and verbal attacks against members of the LGBTQI+ community. On February 17, a man approached a gay couple holding hands in Warsaw and stabbed one of the men. Police published a sketch of the suspect, but no arrests had been made as of November.

On March 17, several members of an LGBTQI+ sports group were attacked during an outdoor training session in the city of Gdansk. Several men disrupted the training, shouted homophobic slurs, and physically attacked two men in the sports group who were later taken to the hospital for medical evaluation. In July the Gdansk district prosecutor’s office discontinued its investigation into the incident. On May 26, an unknown perpetrator physically attacked a man in Wroclaw because he appeared to be gay, according to the victim. Police published a photograph of the suspect from surveillance cameras, but no arrests were made as of November. On February 25, the Czestochowa regional court convicted a night club security guard for physically attacking a woman who was wearing clothing with a rainbow-colored heart. The court imposed a three-year ban on working as a security guard and a three-year restraining order to protect the victim. The court also ordered the perpetrator to pay a fine and compensation to the victim. On May 9, the Poznan regional court sentenced a man to 18 months of community service for attacking an LGBTQI+ couple in Poznan in December 2020. The couple was walking along the street in the city center when a man verbally abused them and threatened them with a knife.

On July 14, the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against the country for failure to fully and appropriately respond to the Commission’s inquiry regarding the nature and impact of what LGBTQI+ activists and critics call “LGBT-free zone” resolutions adopted by dozens of local governments across the country in 2019 and 2020. These resolutions did not explicitly call for “LGBT-free” zones but focused in varying degrees on preventing “LGBT ideology” in schools, called for protection of children against moral corruption, and declared marriage as a union between a woman and a man only.

The commission expressed concerns the declarations may violate EU law regarding nondiscrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. On September 3, the European Commission sent a letter to five provinces that adopted the resolutions, urging them to abandon the declarations and notifying them the commission had suspended discussions on payment of several billion euros in EU funds because of the adoption of the declarations. On September 15, the country’s deputy minister for funds and regional policy sent a letter to all local governments to review declarations to ensure the texts did not contain any discriminatory elements. By the end of September, all five provinces as well as several lower local government units had either repealed or revised the declarations to attempt to satisfy commission concerns. As of October 18, the commission had not commented if the changes were sufficient to restore funding.

On July 2 and September 24, the Supreme Administrative Court returned four legal challenges by the ombudsperson against anti-LGBTQI+ resolutions to provincial administrative courts for another review regarding the municipalities of Lipinki and Niebylec, and the counties of Tarnow and Ryki. Earlier in 2020 and in February of 2021, provincial courts had rejected the complaints, arguing that the declarations could not be reviewed by administrative courts.

As a result of a complaint filed by the human rights ombudsperson in 2019, in July 2020 the Gliwice Provincial Administrative Court struck down a declaration adopted by the Istebna municipality. The court ruled the anti-LGBTQI+ declaration violated administrative law and the constitution, in particular the ban against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro sent appeals against the ruling and a similar one regarding a declaration in the Klwow municipality to the Supreme Administrative Court in September 2020, but the court had not issued a ruling as of December 6.

On January 12, the human rights ombudsperson announced the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in December 2020 that a transgender person who underwent gender reassignment procedure abroad had the right to receive a passport with her new legal identity. Authorities initially refused to update the citizen’s documents to reflect the change.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future