Court rules for Green Party activists: pro-women rights poster does not insult WW2 resistance symbol
On Thursday, 5 October 2017, the District Court for Warszawa-Śródmieście acquitted the three Green Party activists accused of insulting the Anchor, a sign of Polish WW2 Underground State. The accused have allegedly committed the offence by displaying a poster with gender symbols painted at the tips of the Anchor symbol. The judgment is not yet final.
The accused activists were represented pro bono by Mr Artur Pietryka, who agreed to appear in the case in a gesture of courtesy to the Helsinki Foundation. The Foundation has also filed an amicus curiae opinion in this case.
Charges after street protest
On 18 June 2016, Polish Green Party chair Małgorzata Tracz, together with Party members Elżbieta Hołoweńko and Marcin Krawczyk, took part in the “Dignity March” protest for women’s rights. Chief Commissioner of the First Police Department in Warsaw filed a criminal complaint against the activists, accusing them of the commission of a petty offence under article 3(1) of the Polish Underground State Sign (Protection) Act by “publicly displaying a poster depicting a modified Anchor sign with gender symbols added to it.” The poster also displayed the expression “Nie-podległa”, a play on words around the Polish adjective for “independent”, underneath the Anchor sign.
District Court for Warszawa-Śródmieście acquitted the three accused on all counts. In the verbal justification of the judgment, the court emphasised that the Act prohibited the insulting of the Anchor sign, understood as diminishing its value, ridiculing it or presenting it in a negative light. According to the court, the accused’s behaviour manifested no such characteristics: their attempt to associate the Anchor sign with gender symbols did not result in the poster expressing a vulgar or ridiculing message.
The court also argued that no intention to diminish the value of the sign could be attributed to the accused because this would be an irrational course of action from their perspective. Indeed, the accused referred to the Anchor sign as a symbol of a struggle so any attempt at undermining or ridiculing it would be equal to an intent to diminish the weight of their own message.
At the same time, the court acknowledged that some persons or circles may legitimately oppose such a modification of the Anchor sign. However, the court noted that there was nothing illegal in modifying the sign as opposed to insulting it, and remembered that any such conduct must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
HFHR submits amicus
“We are satisfied with today’s judgement and we agree with the arguments presented in the verbal justification: not all modifications of the Anchor sign are insulting to the sign, only those that express contempt for this symbol by taking an insulting form”, says Konrad Siemaszko, a lawyer of the HFHR.
“In our amicus curiae opinion, we have also noted that the display of the “Polka Nie-podległa” poster can be considered a voice in a key public debate, which is a type of specially protected speech. I shouldn’t be forgotten that the freedom of speech and assembly guarantee not only the very possibility of taking the streets and expressing one’s opinion but also ensure that individuals may freely choose a type of speech and a way of protest”, Mr Siemaszko adds.
The HFHR wants to thank Mr Artur Pietryka for his pro bono representation of the accused activists of the Green Party.