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Offices of women’s rights organisations searched by police – HFHR issues statement

The HFHR is concerned about the searches performed on 4 October 2017 by the police in the offices of two women’s rights NGOs, Lubuskie Association for Women BABA and the Center for Women’s Rights, located in Gdańsk, Łódź and Warszawa.

The nature of the actions taken by the police and prosecution service is deeply rooted in the political context of the searches. According to the HFHR, this context includes not only the nationwide women’s protest, the Black Tuesday, which directly preceded law enforcement’s actions but also a number of earlier measures taken by state bodies.

Limited freedom of action

“The search performed by the police and prosecution service in this specific case exemplifies two negative trends, which may be observed in the policy-making activities of Polish authorities after 2016. The government has implemented concrete measures that aggravate the situation of women in Poland while working hard to restrict the freedom of non-governmental organisations’ activities”, the Foundation notes in its statement.

Since the beginning of 2016, attempts have been made to curb the operations of women’s rights organisations. An example of such an attempt was the refusal of further financing for the Center for Women’s Rights from the Fund for Victim and Post-Penitentiary Support administered by the Ministry of Justice. The refusal was justified by the fact that CWS provides aid only to women. Women’s rights organisations are also deprived of full access to consultations on the amendments of laws regulating their operations and prevented from taking part in a dialogue held within governmental departments.

“All these actions can be seen as elements of a strategy that leads to the limitation of women’s rights, which also include attempts to introduce a total ban on abortion, limit access to contraceptives or extend the applicability of the conscience clause”, HFHR’s lawyer Joanna Smętek assesses the situation. “Such a policy takes the hardest toll on women supported by the organisations, who are frequently victims of domestic violence. Thanks to NGOs they finally found help, but the state prevents them to use that help effectively, adds Ms Smętek.

Istanbul Convention vs. policymakers’ actions

In 2015, Poland ratified the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. “By doing this, Poland undertook to support the activities of social organisations that address violence against women. However, the searches performed in the offices of BABA Association and Center for Women’s Rights seem to contravene these undertakings on every possible level”, emphasises Małgorzata Szuleka, a lawyer working with the HFHR.

HFHR’s support

The Helsinki Foundation wish to express solidarity with the members of the organisations targeted by law enforcement authorities and declares the willingness to provide any necessary legal aid. The HFHR wants to believe that the actions taken by Polish authorities in recent years towards organisations supporting female victims of domestic violence are not an attempt to downplay the problem or conceal its scale and true nature. Therefore, we call on the Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General to take systemic and adequate actions for the appropriate development of assistance for victims of domestic violence.

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