A Polish court has acquitted three activists who had been accused of desecration for altering and distributing an image of a Catholic icon to feature the rainbow flag.
According to the AP, the court “did not see evidence of a crime and found that the activists were not motivated by a desire to offend anyone’s religious feelings, but rather wanted to defend those facing discrimination.”
In 2019, Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar were arrested after they had distributed images of the country’s revered Black Madonna of Czestochowa altered to include a rainbow halo. The images, which they distributed around the city of Plock, were intended as a protest against “the exclusion of LGBT people from society.”
The women were later arrested and charged with desecrating a religious object and offending religious feelings. If found guilty, they each could have faced up to two years in prison.
“I still wonder how the rainbow — a symbol of diversity and tolerance — offends these feelings,” Podlesna told the Polish news site Onet. “I cannot understand it, especially since I am a believer.”
Love Does Not Exclude, an equality group in Poland, posted a statement on Facebook applauding the court’s decision. “This is a huge victory of the resistance of the LGBT+ movement and the left fighting for equality in Poland, the most homophobic country of the European Union,” the statement reads.
Despite the ruling, the AP reports that the Life and Family Foundation, which had brought the case against the defendants, plans to appeal the decision. In a statement on the group’s Facebook, founder Kaja Godek said “The courts of the Republic of Poland should protect (Catholics) from violence including by LGBT+ activists.”
The deeply conservative Poland has seen a surge in both pro and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment over the past few years. Roughly one third of the country has declared itself part of an “LGBT Free Zone” while last summer LGBTQ+ rights protests rocked the Eastern European nation. The issue is part of a larger divide between extreme conservatism, perpetuated by the right-leaning government, and the broader push by activists for secularization and social change.