Women's rights activist charged for role in Polish protests

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This file photo from Jan.29.2021 shows Marta Lempart, a key leader of the Polish Women's Strike, in Warsaw, Poland. Lempart has been charged with criminal felonies for her role in organizing mass protests during a pandemic. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski/file)

WARSAW – A leader of the Polish Women’s Strike, the movement that has led mass nationwide protests against a near total abortion ban in Poland, has been charged with criminal felonies.

The U.S. State Department said it was watching the situation in the allied NATO country “very closely.”

Marta Lempart told The Associated Press on Thursday that she was formally read the charges at the district prosecutor’s office in Warsaw on Wednesday.

The charges against her include insulting a police officer and causing an epidemiological threat for organizing protests during the coronavirus pandemic. Under Polish law, a person can face from six months to eight years of imprisonment for causing an epidemiological threat.

Lempart was also charged with praising the vandalism of churches and the “malicious obstruction” of religious services after favorable comments in a radio interview about protesters who had sprayed paint on church facades and disrupted Masses during their protests.

Lempart said that she sees the charges as an intensification of political pressure on her movement. Many protesters have previously been charged with misdemeanors for participating in the protests. Lempart said that in almost all of the cases the courts have dropped those charges.

The development comes as the European Union has been expressing its concerns about the erosion of democratic norms in the member state, but finding itself powerless to change much.

Judges, LGBT people, Holocaust scholars and independent media also feel under heavy pressure by the right-wing government. A new planned advertising tax, if passed, is expected to be only the last blow against media diversity.