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Polish priest and prominent LGBT activist accused of ‘offending religious feelings’

Warsaw, Poland – Reverend Szymon Niemiec, a Polish priest and prominent LGBT rights activist, has been accused of “offending religious feelings” in a case critics fear is politically motivated.

Polish LGBT rights spokesman and priest faces “political case”

In October, Rev. Szymon Niemiec, along with two of his colleagues, Mariusz Wrzesinski and Krzysztof Leszczynski, were summoned to the Warsaw chief prosecutor’s office and charged with offending religious feelings by insulting an object of worship in the form of a Roman Catholic Mass.

All three celebrants had held an ecumenical service in connection with the Equality Parade held in the Polish capital every year. Under Poland’s penal code, the crime of offending religious sentiment can carry a jail sentence of up to two years. Rev. Szymon Niemiec, a well-known Polish priest and LGBT activist, is currently awaiting the prosecutor’s decision, on whether to bring an indictment to court.

Poland’s ruling PiS party launched an aggressive campaign against the LGBT community in the months leading up to last October’s general elections.

Although having been brought up in a Roman Catholic family, Szymon Niemiec declares to have been quickly disillusioned with the failings of the clergy in Poland. After publicly coming out as homosexual in the late 1990s, he was confirmed and ordained, a few years later, in the Free Reformed Church of Poland, established by Latvian Reverend Ernest Ivanovs – a congregation known for pioneering the defense of gay rights in staunchly Catholic Poland.

According to Rev. Niemec, 42, the charges brought against him and his colleagues are part of the conservative government’s wider agenda. “This case is clearly politically motivated”, he told Kafkadesk. “The government wants to show the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, silence all religious minorities and portray LGBT issues as a threat to the Polish people”.

Fear of oppression growing among Polish LGBT community

Founder of the first Polish Gay Pride Parade in 2001, member of a number of pro-LGBT organizations and of the Left party since 2002, Reverand Niemec has long been a foremost spokesman of Poland’s gay community and a frequent target of pro-government media attacks.

According to most international indexes, Poland is one of the least tolerant countries in Europe regarding LGBT rights.

“For gays and lesbians, today’s Poland is like 1930′ Germany”, he already warned back in 2006, one year after the Law and Justice (PiS) party, currently at the helm of Poland, first came to power. “The police even visited my home. And they told me they were ready to do what they did in 1985, when hundreds of gays and lesbians were rounded up and interrogated by the Communist police”.

The tactics used in his most recent case appear, indeed, reminiscent of darker times. “The prosecutor ordered a second psychiatric evaluation, even though I already passed a first one that found I was entirely stable”, he explained to Kafkadesk. “It seems obvious that, if they’re not able to send me to prison, they’ll try to have me locked up in a psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period of time, for which they wouldn’t even need a court order”.

Poland fails to uphold “fundamental EU values”

Rev. Niemec’s case is starting to attract international attention. Smeared by Polish public media, which has turned into a government mouthpiece, his situation has been covered by a number of independent Polish outlets who have sought to raise awareness about the issue.

Earlier this month, over thirty members of the European Parliament from a dozen different countries sent a letter to the European Commission “to express [their] concerns about the situation of the Rt. Rev. Szymon Niemec”. “EU membership is conditional on complying with EU standards, rules and values”, they wrote. “We are concerned that in summoning Bishop Szymon to face charges for offending religious feelings on the grounds of his support for the LGBTQI community, Poland is failing to respect the fundamental EU values”.

A petition has also been circulating to draw attention to his case and urge Polish authorities to drop the charges against him.

Dozens of Polish cities and municipalities have passed resolutions to declare themselves “LGBT-free” over the past year.