Pro-women rights poster does not insult WW2 resistance symbol: Green Party activists’ acquittal becomes final
On Thursday, 22 February 2018, A Regional Court upheld the acquittal of the Green Party activists accused of insulting the Anchor, a sign of Polish WW2 Underground State. The accused were accused to have committed the offence by displaying a poster with gender symbols painted at the tips of the Anchor symbol. The acquittal decision is final and binding.
The accused activists were represented pro bono by Mr Artur Pietryka, who agreed to appear in the case at the request of 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 activists 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 of words around the Polish adjective for “independent”.
District court acquits, Police appeal
On 5 October 2017, District Court for Warszawa-Śródmieście acquitted the three accused on all counts. The Court justified its verdict by emphasising that the law does not impose a general prohibition against the transformation of the Anchor sign but penalises only those modifications that attempt to ridicule or insult the protected symbol. In District Court’s assessment, the message conveyed by the poster cannot be considered offensive, mocking or distasteful. The Court also noted that the accused’s right to lawfully manifest their beliefs, also with the use of the protected Anchor symbol, is protected by the guarantees of the freedom of speech.
The Police has challenged the District Court’s decision and filed an appeal as the public prosecutor.
Regional Court: appeal has no merit
A Regional Court upheld the acquittal decreed by the first instance court, dismissing the Police appeal as meritless. In the verbal justification of today’s judgment, the court emphasised that the law allows modifications of national symbols as long as such modifications do not insult a given symbol. The second instance court also ruled that any general prohibition against modifications would turn those symbols into lifeless and rusty museum artefacts while modern iterations of such symbols revive them and connect us with our history, creating a living memory of the past.
“We are satisfied with today’s judgement and we agree with the arguments presented in the verbal justification: not all modifications of the Anchor symbol 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 also noted that the display of the “Polka Nie-podległa” poster can be considered a voice in a key public debate, which is a specially protected type of 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 wishes to thank Mr Artur Pietryka for his committed representation of the accused activists of the Green Party.