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The teenager is facing a PLN 500 fine or a reprimand for organizing a protest in the town of Limanowa in southern Poland. She could be facing an additional fine of up to PLN 30.000 imposed by the local Sanitary Inspectorate (the case is still pending).
A protest in the PiS stronghold
The October Women's Strike protest in Limanowa has drawn nationwide attention because of the town’s reputation as a long-time stronghold of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). This was the place where Andrzej Duda, the party’s candidate, received a record 80,46% of votes in the 2020 presidential election – his best result in the entire Lesser Poland (Małopolska) region. As many as 15 out of 25 seats in the district council are filled by politicians affiliated with the ruling camp.
Certainly not the most politically favorable environment for the Women's Strike initiative, but it did not discourage the 17-year-old Małgorzata from organizing a protest. It was not only the first demonstration she has ever organized, but also the first one she ever attended.
- I want to be a mother one day. I am Catholic and I always thought I would spend my entire life here, in Limanowa. But now I keep thinking that Poland might not be the right place for me- the girl told us before the protest. She was joined by 300 people in the local market square who wanted to protest the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Facing them were 200 neighbors who claimed to have come there to “defend the Church”.
A case for the Human Rights Commissioner
-I will request the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights to join these proceedings- Daria Gosek-Popiołek, a Left party MP from the region of Lesser Poland, told us. The MP participated in the protest in Limanowa. She confirms that the protesters were wearing face masks and tried to keep the recommended distance.
-Law enforcement officers were overly zealous in policing the Women's Strike protests. Their actions were and continue to be calculated to intimidate the protesters. Civil rights cannot be restricted by way of regulation. Citizens have a right to spontaneous demonstrations, the Human Rights Commissioner and constitutional experts agree on that– she says.
-Małgorzata is 17 years old. The Polish government has set the entire state apparatus in motion against one underage person who exercised her constitutional right to freely express her opinion and protest an issue that may one day affect her personally. The police and the Sanitary Inspectorate versus one underage girl.
- I hope that the court dismisses the case. I also hope that the Commissioner for Human Rights gets involved- the MP tells us.
Women’s Strike. Ever more people receive an appearance notice
While Małgorzata’s case is one of the first in the entire region, it is not the only one. Kamil Mitera, a 23-year-old from Tarnów, is also facing charges for his involvement in the Women's Strike protests.
- It is an attempt to intimidate and frighten the most vulnerable; young people from small towns. It’s a disgrace- says Katarzyna Kulerska, one of the Women's Strike leaders in Kraków. The Women’s Strike initiative provided Małgorzata with necessary legal protection- We won’t let anyone stand alone. Gosia will get through this, she is a strong girl. And she has thousands of other strong girls supporting her - she adds.
Żaneta Oczkowska, a lawyer from the Anti-Repression Committee (since November 2020, the organization has set up a hotline for anyone in need of free legal assistance) admits that ever more people are asking for legal help. The calls intensified after the New Year – We assume that because fewer people are protesting on the streets now, the police have more time to intensify their interrogation efforts- Ms. Oczkowska says.
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