POLAND: Polish Activists Win Cases Against ‘LGBT-Free Zones’: Authorities’ Attempts to Silence LGBT Activists Failing in Courts

Article by Claudia Zygmunt, published on Human Rights Watch on 08/05/2023 – accessible here.

On April 21, an appeals court in the Polish city of Białystok threw out a case brought by Przasnysz county authorities against four lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists who founded the “Atlas of Hate” project. This is the first final verdict in favour of the activists who are facing multiple lawsuits for drawing international attention to Poland’s discriminatory “LGBT-Free Zones.”

The Atlas of Hate is an interactive map of Poland showing provinces, towns, and municipalities across the country where local authorities have adopted discriminatory “family charters” pledging to “protect children from moral corruption” or declared themselves free from “LGBT ideology.”

In December 2022, courts in Opoczno and Tarnów counties dismissed in the first instance two other cases brought by local authorities against Atlas of Hate. Another two municipalities withdrew lawsuits after the European Union threatened to pull funding over the so-called “LGBT-Free Zones.”

Seven of the nearly 100 localities with these anti-LGBT policies sued the Atlas of Hate founders for defamation, demanding public apologies and 280,000 zloty (US$64,000) for calling their regions “LGBT-Free Zones.” Lawyers for an ultra-conservative organization, Ordo Iuris, which championed the “LGBT-Free Zone” resolutions, supported the lawsuits.

“Local authorities who decided to sue us should finally understand that their claims are doomed to failure,” said Jakub Gawron, one of the Atlas of Hate founders. “Poland’s courts have emphasized that the right to criticize authorities is subject to special protection.”

Authorities in one-third of the country adopted anti-LGBT resolutions after the right-wing Law and Justice ruling party made “protecting” Poland from “LGBT ideology” a centerpiece of its successful electoral campaign in 2019. Fifty-six anti-LGBT resolutions across Poland, including in Przasnysz, Opoczno, and Tarnów counties, remain in place.

The Law and Justice party’s smear campaign against LGBT people is accompanied by the erosion of the rule of law and women’s rights, as well as frequent legal charges against human rights defenders in an attempt to silence and bankrupt activists.

As Poland’s courts side with the Atlas of Hate activists, it’s clear local authorities only aim to have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and suppress criticism of anti-LGBT resolutions. The Polish authorities should drop remaining lawsuits against LGBT activists and finally repeal all discriminatory resolutions.