(Reuters) – Polish politicians should stop stigmatising LGBTI people, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said in a memorandum published on Thursday, adding that such behaviour risked legitimising homophobic violence.
Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party made battling what it calls ‘LGBT ideology’, a key plank of election campaigns in 2019 and 2020, in a bid to rally core religious conservative voters.
“The Commissioner is deeply concerned about the propagation of negative and inflammatory homophobic narratives by many public officials in Poland, including people in the highest ranks of government,” the memorandum by Dunja Mijatovic said.
“…Stigmatisation and hate directed at certain individuals or groups of people carry a real risk of legitimising violence, sometimes with fatal consequences.”
The memorandum outlines instances of stigmatisation of LGBTI people in Poland, including the declaration of ‘LGBT-free zones’ by some local authorities, and instances of inflammatory language used about the LGBTI community by politicians and senior figures in the Catholic church.
“Stigmatising rhetoric has often been accompanied by harassment and intimidation of LGBTI activists by law enforcement agencies and the public prosecution services,” the memorandum said, citing the example of an activist detained for hanging up posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.
In written comments in response to the memorandum, the Polish government rejected the criticism.
“…It needs to be emphasised that the activities of the police could have never been considered as harassing or intimidating and they resulted only from respecting the law in force,” the government said.
It said that the commissioner’s comments on ‘LGBT-free zones’ were “misleading”, adding that the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman was enshrined in the Polish constitution.
Poland and Hungary are under formal EU investigation for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations.