On March 8, Polish women in cities all across the country took to the streets again to protest the near-total abortion ban which took effect in January. The demonstrations were marked by a massive police presence, increased controls, and instances of police violence such as the use of pepper spray.
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Warsaw: kettling tactics and fines

In Warsaw, the police prevented protesters from marching through the city. Officers cordoned off the site of the demonstration, kettling protesters for eight hours until midnight, and pulling them out one by one. As usual during protests organized by the Women’s Strike movement, the police intensified controls and handed out fines. There were also several arrests.

On Tuesday, March 9, the police issued an official summary of their actions from the night before. According to Sylwester Marczak, the Warsaw police spokesperson, officers fined 28 protesters, controlled and identified 335 people, and issued 188 penalty notices – 70 of them relating to alleged violations of sanitary restrictions, but the majority concerned obstruction of traffic.

Among the arrested protesters was Grandma Kasia – a known Warsaw activist and a regular participant of anti-government demonstrations. Recently, seven police officers followed her around while she was shopping in a confectionery. Before that, she has accused the police of physical and verbal abuse while being in detention. Mr. Marczak mentioned that the charges against Grandma Kasia include insulting and violating the bodily integrity of a police officer. Five other people were detained for refusing to identify themselves while controlled by the police.

Katowice: policing the Handmaids  

Although on a much smaller scale, the police also stopped and frisked many participants of the demonstration in Katowice. As reported by the local edition of Wyborcza, 20 out of 100 protesters were stopped and questioned. Additionally, 18 people were fined: 15 cases concerned breaking the ban on public assembly, while three of them were instances of vulgar behavior.

Over a dozen police cars lined up at the local market square where activists collected signatures for a pro-choice petition. Initially, police officers were only observing them. They stepped in when a group of women dressed in red coats and white bonnets approached the Silesian Theatre to take a picture in front of it. "The Handmaids" were roaming around Katowice even before the protest, drawing considerable attention from passersby and encouraging them to sign the petition. - We walked and stood in front of the theater keeping a distance of two meters and wore our facemasks the entire time. Still, the police surrounded us and asked us to identify ourselves. Why? - reported one of the activists.

According to the police, the Handmaids were stopped because of their alleged participation in an illegal event. - It is easy to attack a few women instead of approaching a larger crowd. What about those several-hundred Covid deniers who walked the streets of Katowice on Saturday without even wearing masks? The police did absolutely nothing! – said one of the upset women.

Wrocław: police used pepper spray

The protest in Wrocław, however, took an even more dramatic turn. There, the police used tear gas against protesters. Two of our reporters, Karolina Kozakiewicz and Tomasz Pietrzyk, were accidentally hurt. Another Women's Strike demonstration took place in Wrocław also the day before, but the police protected the protesters instead of attacking them.

On Monday, as the police tried to stop demonstrators from walking through the city, the confrontation became violent.

- I did not notice any signs of aggressive behavior coming from the demonstrators, yet they were forbidden to pass through. The police sprayed tear gas all along the roadway near Kazimierz Wielki Street, hitting demonstrators as well as some of the police officers- says Tomasz Pietrzyk, a photojournalist for the local edition of Wyborcza, who also got maced.

The police used their cars to block the road. - There is no passage, please move back!- shouted one of the officers. Some of the demonstrators returned to Świdnicka Street, others kept on marching. Police officers tried to catch the protesters. Some of them sat down on the street, blocking the police cars. A violent confrontation ensued. One person was arrested.


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