– Analysis done by Notes From Poland, published on 10 February 2021, accessible here.

The leader of mass protests in Poland against a near-total abortion ban has been charged with crimes that could result in a prison sentence of up to eight years.

The woman, who can only be named as Marta L. under Polish law, is the leader of Women’s Strike (Strajk Kobiet), which has been the main organiser of demonstrations in response to last October’s court ruling that bans almost all legal abortions. They are the largest protests in Poland’s post-communist history.

On Wednesday, Marta L. was charged with “insulting police officers by making a spitting gesture and using vulgar words” and for “causing an epidemiological threat”, Aleksandra Skrzyniarz, the spokeswoman for Warsaw district prosecutor’s office, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

PAP reports that Marta L. has also been charged with publicly praising crimes in relation to an interview in which she discussed vandalism of churches and disruption of masses by protesters.

In November, prosecutors announced that they were investigating the leaders of Women’s Strike for endangering public health by organising demonstrations during the pandemic, for insulting people due to their religious affiliation, and for inciting or praising illegal actions.

The latter charges related to an interview given by Marta L. to Radio Zet, during which she said that protests targeting the church were understandable because “people are really pissed off at church institutions”.

“These men went too far, these men went into our lives and into our bodies,” she continued. “They should have expected this reaction and it will happen again, if they don’t finally grasp what has happened.”

The charges regarding a “spitting gesture” and “vulgar words” may relate to an incident at a protest in late November when Marta L. was filmed swearing at police officers and appearing to spit towards them, though she was wearing a mask.

After that incident, a deputy minister, Jacek Ozdoba, submitted a notification to prosecutors accusing Marta L. of insulting public officials by spitting at them and using vulgar words. He also accused her of endangering public health by spitting.

Other figures in Poland’s government have also condemned the abortion protests. Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, said that the “violent social upheaval” was “intended to destroy Poland”.

“These demonstrations will most certainly cost many lives,” warned Kaczyński, who serves as deputy prime minister with responsibility for security. “Those who call for them and participate in them cause a threat and are committing a serious crime. The authorities not only have a right, but an obligation to oppose such events.”

Marta L. has been unapologetic about her confrontational approach to opposing October’s anti-abortion ruling, which finally came into force last month.

“I am not there to be nice or to act as mediator…we are at war,” she told Notes from Poland in an interview last November. She also accused the “police and prosecution authorities [of] acting openly in the interests of PiS, not in the interests of the state and citizens”.

Asked about claims that she was responsible for accelerating the spread of coronavirus, Marta L. said that this was government “propaganda, complete lies”. In fact, “Kaczyński is responsible for the abortion ruling, and he is the reason we are demonstrating. He is also the person who decides how it continues.”