Cases of Violations of Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in Poland

Cases of Violations of Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in Poland

The activity of the Laboratory of Religious Freedom is to lead to an increase in the level of social awareness in the face of the existence, or even the observed intensification, of violations of the freedom of conscience and religion as well as religious crimes1. One of the statutory activities of the project, aimed at diagnosing and recognizing the full scale of the violation of the freedom of conscience and religion in Poland, is to maintain an active internet monitoring map presenting reported cases of crimes and manifestations of religious discrimination. Data on violations taking place on the territory of Poland from January 2019, reliably collected and verified by a team of experts2, are constantly updated to accurately reflect the current situation of all religious communities, both those represented in large numbers and those that are religious minorities. In this publication, the data on minority religious communities will be analyzed covering the period from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021, i.e. 22 cases of violations out of 406 qualified results, placed on the monitoring map, dated according to the indicated time interval.

According to the data of the Statistics Poland from 2018, "the majority of Polish society identifies with religious institutions: 34,222 million Polish residents consider themselves members - believers, sympathizers - of churches, religious associations, denominations or religious movements. This number is 88,9% of the total population of Poland or - if it is related to the population of people who gave answers about religious affiliation – 97,4% of the population of people with a recognized religious status (...) The census data confirm the statistically dominant position of the Latin-rite Catholic Church. The community of the Roman Catholic Church believers consists of 33,729 million people, which is 87,6% of the total population and 96% of the population of people with a recognized religious status"3. The research above is reflected in the ratio of the number of violations against religious freedom to the communities of given denominations qualified and placed on the monitoring map of the Laboratory of Religious Freedom. Out of 406 offenses against religious freedom committed in Poland from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021, 22 acts (i.e. 5.4% of all incidents from the analyzed period) concern acts against religious minorities4. 10 acts of vandalism were reported against the Judaism, which constitutes 2,5% of all violations recorded on the monitoring map, and 45,5% of cases involving actions against religious minorities in Poland; against the Islam - 1 offense (respectively: 0,3% of all violations on the monitoring map, 4,6% of cases concerning religious minorities); 11 offenses were qualified against Christian minority communities (2,7% of all violations on the monitoring map, 50% of acts against religious minorities).

The vast majority of attacks on the religious freedom of minority communities in Poland were manifested in destroying and insulting places of worship. 7 acts of vandalism, i.e. 1,7% of all violations recorded on the monitoring map and 31,8% of cases involving actions against religious minorities, were committed in sacred places - churches or Orthodox churches5. In these places, vandals did numerous damage: they devastated presbyteries, broke windows and poured oily liquids on temple doors, made occult drawings, destroyed the Bible and scattered liturgical items6. The perpetrators also robbed money boxes for donations or liturgical equipment of temples. One of the events bore particular signs of persecution: on November 7, 2019, the Evangelical-Methodist Church believers in Poznań found traces of an attempted arson on the foam sealing the historic door of the temple7. More than half of the acts of destroying sacred places were devastation of cemeteries (13 incidents). These offenses accounted for 3,2% of all violations and 59,1% of cases concerning religious minorities. 10 acts of vandalism took place in Jewish cemeteries (2,5% of all cases, 45,5% of cases against religious minorities), 3 offenses occurred in the area of Evangelical necropolises (0,7% of all cases, 13,6% of cases against religious minorities). Perpetrators of devastation committed in Jewish cemeteries knocked over and destroyed matzevot stones8, on the walls of the necropolis they placed inscriptions insulting the followers of Judaism9, political slogans10, denominational symbols11 as well as swastica and the symbol of SS12. In Evangelical cemeteries, vandals painted over commemorative plaques13, knocked over and devastated tombstones, crosses and stones14. One act of persecution based on religion was personal. On September 4, 2019, a 42-year-old man threatened to kill two of Jehovah's witnesses who were carrying out missionary activities in Łódź. The perpetrator aimed at the victims with pneumatic weapons and made criminal threats because of their religious affiliation15. In the category of insulting a population group because of their religious affiliation, one incident was also recorded on December 16, 2020: an unknown perpetrator sprayed red slogan insulting the Muslim religion on a used clothing container located near a mosque in Białystok16. These acts constitute 0,3% of all violations on the monitoring map, 4,6% of cases concerning religious minorities.

According to media reports, in the case of the 17 incidents described above, the perpetrator or perpetrators are still unknown, thus in relation to 77,3% of acts against religious minorities in Poland, it’s not possible to obtain complete information on the motivation for the offense. Two factors influence this state of affairs. Firstly, not all acts against religious freedom are reported to the Police or the Prosecutor's Office17; secondly, police actions often remain ineffective for various reasons, despite the undertaken proceedings. 13,6% of the offenses presented in the study ended in court (two cases are pending in the Family and Juvenile Court, one case ended with a verdict). In this context, it is worth mentioning the case of a personal attack on Jehovah's witnesses during their missionary activities, which ended with the District Court in Łódź sentencing the 42-year-old perpetrator to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years18.

The analysis of media reports shows that violations against religious minorities in Poland are primarily attacks on sacred places, which manifests itself in arson attempts, profanation, devastation and thefts committed in the area of churches, acts of vandalism in cemeteries and placing in public space slogans insulting members of a given religious community. These offenses create tension and anxiety in local communities, cause them to feel threatened and not accepted due to their religious affiliation and the willingness to manifest it. Moreover, according to the public opinion, acts of vandalism committed in places of worship or necropolises are considered to be offenses with a negligible range of harmfulness, although they constitute an attack on the fundamental human right to freedom of belief, conscience and religion, and thus should be particularly protected.

Laboratory of Religious Freedom team

1 https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/dzialania/ (access:21.07.2021).

2 The violations marked on the map were collected by monitoring media reports: systematic review of websites and web portals in line with the adopted methodology. The stages of research are as follows: accepting information about a given event, verifying the event as an act against freedom of religion, and confirming the authenticity of the report with at least two sources. As part of our research, we analyze statistics and reports on issues related to the observance of religious freedom both in Poland and in the world: https://statystyka.policja.pl/st/kodeks-karny/przestepstwa-przeciwko-5, https://ekai.pl/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wolnosc_religijna_raport-1.pdf, https://hatecrime.osce.org/, https://pl.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/irfr2020pl.pdf, https://bip.brpo.gov.pl/pl/raport_1/859. Access to the links above: 21.07.2021

3 Statistics Poland, Wyznania religijne w Polsce w latach 2015–2018, Warszawa 2019, p. 30, https://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/inne-opracowania/wyznania-religijne/wyznania-religijne-w-polsce-20152018,5,2.html (access:21.07.2021). In the quoted document, the statistics were given in thousands: 34,222 thousands people identifying themselves with religious institutions, 33,729 thousands of the Roman Catholic Church believers.

4 References to 22 descriptions of violations concerning religious minorities on the Laboratory of Religious Freedom monitoring map: acts against the Judaism: https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-murze-kirkutu-w-tarnowie/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-murze-kirkutu-w-tarnowie-2/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-murze-kirkutu-w-tarnowie-3/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-cmentarzu-zydowskim-w-tarnowskich-gorach/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-cmentarzu-zydowskim-w-dobrodzieniu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-cmentarzu-zydowskim-w-pszczynie/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-zabytkowym-cmentarzu-zydowskim-w-zabrzu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-zydowskim-cmentarzu-w-oswiecimiu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-nowym-cmentarzu-zydowskim-we-wroclawiu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/dewastacja-cmentarza-zydowskiego-w-bielsku-bialej/; act against Islam: https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/haslo-zniewazajace-religie-muzulmanska-w-poblizu-meczetu-w-bialymstoku/; acts against Christian minority communities: https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-terenie-cmentarza-przy-kosciele-pokoju-w-swidnicy/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-w-ewangelicko-augsbuskim-kosciele-zbawiciela-w-kluczborku/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-ewangelickim-cmentarzu-w-myslowicach, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-w-kosciele-ewangelickim-w-starych-prazuchach/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/kradziez-i-profanacja-w-kosciele-ewangelicko-metodystycznym-w-poznaniu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/proba-podpalenia-kosciola-ewangelicko-metodystycznego-w-poznaniu/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/akt-wandalizmu-na-na-cmentarzu-ewangelickim-w-szklarce-przygodzickiej/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/wlamanie-do-cerkwi-pw-sw-apostola-i-ewangelisty-marka-w-bialej-podlaskiej/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/wlamanie-do-cerkwi-pw-sw-aleksandra-newskiego-w-lodzi/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/wlamanie-i-kradziez-do-cerkwi-greckokatolickiej-pw-podwyzszenia-krzyza-w-gorowie-ilaweckim/, https://laboratoriumwolnosci.pl/event/atak-na-swiadkow-jehowy-w-lodzi/. Access to the links above: 21.07.2021

5 Theft and profanation in the Evangelical-Methodist Church in Poznań (circa 24.10.2019), attempted arson of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Poznań (07.11.2019), break-in and theft in the Greek Catholic church of Exaltation of the Cross in Górowo Iławeckie (14/15.01.2020), break-in to the Orthodox church of St. Mark, Apostle and Evangelist in Biała Podlaska (22/23.02.2020), break-in to the Orthodox church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Łódź (21.03.2020), act of vandalism in the Evangelical-Augsburg Church of the Savior in Kluczbork (21/22.05.2020), act of vandalism in the Evangelical Church in Stare Prażuchy (21.05.2021 – date of media report).

6 See among others: https://poznan.naszemiasto.pl/proba-podpalenia-kosciola-w-poznaniu-ksiadz-nie-wiem-jakie/ar/c1-7417814 (access:27.09.2020); https://www.se.pl/olsztyn/wlamywal-sie-do-kosciolow-w-gorowie-ilaweckim-mezczyzna-zostal-aresztowany-aa-5KEn-z18g-wz8h.html (access:19.03.2021); https://www.dziennikwschodni.pl/biala-podlaska/wlamanie-do-cerkwi-w-bialej-podlaskiej-ukradziono-kielich-i-zbezczeszczono-oltarz,n,1000260947.html (access:23.02.2021), https://kalisz.naszemiasto.pl/kosciol-w-starych-prazuchach-czy-w-podkaliskiej-swiatyni/ar/c1-8288302 (access:24.05.2021).

7 https://poznan.naszemiasto.pl/proba-podpalenia-kosciola-w-poznaniu-ksiadz-nie-wiem-jakie/ar/c1-7417814 (access:27.09.2020).

8 See among others: https://jewish.pl/pl/2020/09/13/dewastacja-cmentarza-zydowskiego-w-zabrzu/ (access:26.06.2021), https://www.rpo.gov.pl/pl/content/rpo-podejmuje-sprawe-dewastacji-czterech-cmentarzy-zydowskich-na-poludniu-polski (access:26.06.2021), https://dziennikzachodni.pl/zabytkowy-cmentarz-zydowski-w-zabrzu-zdewastowany-wandale-przewrocili-ponad-20-nagrobkow-sprawcow-szuka-policja/ar/c1-15176474 (access:27.10.2020), http://www.wroclaw.policja.gov.pl/dwr/aktualnosci/bieza/42109,Pieciu-12-latow-zatrzymanych-w-zwiazku-ze-zniszczeniem-kilkudziesieciu-nagrobkow.html (access:18.06.2021), https://bielskobiala.wyborcza.pl/bielskobiala/7,88025,27262008,policjanci-zatrzymali-sprawcow-dewastacji-cmentarza.html (access:29.06.2021).

9 https://jewish.pl/pl/2019/07/21/zydzi-jedza-dzieci-dewastacja-na-cmentarzu-zydowskim-w-tarnowie/ (access:08.03.2021).

10 https://tarnow.naszemiasto.pl/antysemickie-haslo-na-murze-tarnowskiego-kirkutu-kolejny/ar/c1-7359317?fbclid=IwAR1zxb7PQUUbkDKvY2XkhQb02jXLA9uC_kR0AQv6taP0FLMRwoa4Nwap-iA (access:08.03.2021).

11 https://www.se.pl/tarnow/tarnow-antysemickie-graffiti-na-murze-cmentarza-zydowskiego-aa-3dm8-M9L4-enNT.html (access:08.03.2021).

12 https://oswiecim.naszemiasto.pl/oswiecim-symbole-faszystowskie-na-murze-cmentarza/ar/c15-8081415 (access:11.01.2021).

13 https://www.tvn24.pl/wroclaw,44/swidnica-xviii-wieczne-epitafium-pomalowane-na-rozowo,957018.html (access:30.07.2019).

14 https://dziennikzachodni.pl/myslowice-cmentarz-zdewastowany-ktos-przewrocil-krzyze-zbiorowej-mogily-ofiar-obozu-pracy-rosengarten/ar/c1-15506129 (access:30.03.2021); https://www.portalsamorzadowy.pl/wydarzenia-lokalne/dewastacja-nagrobkow-na-cmentarzu-w-wielkopolsce,132121.html (access:16.03.2021).

15 https://wiadomosci.com/lodz-buddysta-wycelowal-z-broni-do-swiadka-jehowy-ruszyl-proces/ (access:02.11.2020).

16 https://bialystok.wyborcza.pl/bialystok/7,35241,26618357,meczet-na-piastowskiej-kluje-w-oczy-wandali-obrazliwe-bazgroly.html (access:18.02.2021).

17 One incident was not reported to the Police or the Prosecutor's Office, and the media reports did not provide information on the status of the proceedings against two cases.

18 https://dzienniklodzki.pl/buddysta-chcial-strzelac-do-swiadkow-jehowy-jest-wyrok/ar/c1-14829130 (access:22.07.2021). "The prosecution accused the Buddhist of making criminal threats due to religious affiliation, and requested that he be sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for one year. In turn, the lawyer defending the 42-year-old man, Małgorzata Zimmer, asked for his acquittal. Meanwhile, judge Tomasz Krawczyk unexpectedly extended the prosecutor's charge to include the defendants threats to kill. Therefore, the sentence was - which rarely happens - more severe than what the prosecutor demanded " - ibid.

Autor: Mateusz Ruta
Date: 17 August 2021
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