Back to top

Women human rights defenders acquitted in “Rainbow Virgin Mary” case

Status: 
Acquitted
About the situation

On 3 March 2021, Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar were acquitted by the court of Plock of the charges of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland. The charges were brought against the women human rights defenders in response to their posting of stickers and posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo to promote LGBTIQ+ rights. The costs of the trial will be borne by the state.

On 17 February 2021, the second hearing in the case of Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar is scheduled to take place in the town of Plock. The three women rights defenders face charges of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland, punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

On 13 January 2021, the first hearing into the case of Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar is scheduled to take place in the town of Plock. The three women rights defenders face charges “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment.

About Elzbieta Podlesna

Elzbieta (Ela) Podlesna is an independent activist and was one of 14 women attacked by far-right protesters after the women held  up a banner reading “Stop Fascism” at an Independence Day March in Warsaw in 2017. Far-right protesters were marching with racist and fascist symbols and slogans such as “white Poland.”

3 March 2021
Women human rights defenders acquitted in “Rainbow Virgin Mary” case

On 3 March 2021, Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar were acquitted by the court of Plock of the charges of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland. The charges were brought against the women human rights defenders in response to their posting of stickers and posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo to promote LGBTIQ+ rights. The costs of the trial will be borne by the state.

In her closing remarks the judge presiding over the case said: "The goal [of the activists] was to support LGBT people. [..] Here the question arises: was this controversial form of expression not intended to introduce an important problem to the public debate? It seems that this hearing and such wide interest in the trial is the answer to this question. There is no provision in the catechism of the catholic church that excludes non-heteronormative persons. There is love, mutual respect and understanding". The judge stated that their act did not meet the criteria of “offending religious beliefs” and rather was intended to draw attention to the issue of homophobia. She also referred to numerous letters received from Catholics who asserted that the image of the Virgin Mary on a rainbow background did not offend them or their religious beliefs.

The prosecutor in the case had requested a six month restriction of liberty in the form of 30 hours of unpaid community service as a sentence for the women human rights defenders if convicted. The attorney for the former pastor of the parish where the stickers had been pasted had demanded a harsher sentence of one and a half years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty under Article 196 of the Criminal Code is two years’ imprisonment. Front Line Defenders welcomes the aquittal of the three women human rights defenders and is encouraged by the show of national and international solidarity in response to this case.

 

15 February 2021
Hearing of Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar scheduled for 17 February

On 17 February 2021, the second hearing in the case of Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar is scheduled to take place in the town of Plock. The three women rights defenders face charges of “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland, punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

The previous hearing took place on 13 January 2021, during which the court heard questioned two witnesses; a priest from the church in Plock where the women human rights defenders pasted posters to protest a traditional Easter display and a religious activist. On 13 January, a group of protesters gathered outside of the courthouse in support of the three women human rights defenders, shouting slogans including “Secular, not Catholic, Poland!” and “Rainbow does not offend!” Several observers and journalists attended the hearing.

6 January 2021
Upcoming trial of three Polish women rights defenders

On 13 January 2021, the first hearing into the case of Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar is scheduled to take place in the town of Plock. The three women rights defenders face charges “offending religious beliefs” under article 196 of the Criminal Code of Poland, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment..

On 29 April 2019, Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar pasted posters depicting the Virgin Mary (known as Black Madonna of Częstochowa), with a rainbow halo around her head and shoulders, in support of LGBTI+ rights. In the early morning of 6 May 2019, the apartment of Elzbieta Podlesna was searched by the police, her equipement seized and she was detained for several hours. In July 2020, Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar were accused of “publicly insulting an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others” under article 196 of the Criminal Code.

Front Line Defenders believes that the distribution of posters is part of the right to the freedom of expression, and Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar are being criminalised for their legitimate and peaceful human rights work. Front Line Defenders calls on Polish authorities to drop the charges against three women human rights defenders.