Activists acquitted in Polish rainbow Virgin Mary case
Gay Rghts Activist with Rainbow Virgin Mary Poland (AFP)

A Polish court on Tuesday acquitted three gay rights activists who were accused of offending religious sentiment after they put up posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.

The defendants -- Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar, Anna Prus and Elzbieta Podlesna -- were found not guilty because they lacked the required intent to offend, according to the regional court in the central city of Plock.

"The goal of the activists... was to show support to LGBT individuals, to fight for their equal rights," Judge Agnieszka Warchol said.

She added that the court had received many letters from practicing Catholics, and even clergy, that said the rainbow halo images did not mock the religious icon.

The women had faced up to two years in prison under article 196 of Poland's criminal code, which prohibits offending religious sentiment.

Poland's influential Catholic church and the governing nationalists oppose gay rights, which the rainbow flag symbolises.

One of the defendants, Podlesna, described the church as "a formidable force in Poland" and told AFP she was crossing her fingers that the institution would change.

"Everything now depends on what form that force will take: will it encourage diversity, solidarity and empathy?" she said.

"Or will it be destructive, politicised and centred around money, as is the case now?" she added.

A group of LGBT activists gathered outside the courthouse holding a banner that said "The Rainbow Doesn't Offend", a slogan that was also circulated on social media by supporters and opposition politicians.

The prosecution said it planned to appeal the verdict.

The case dates back to April 2019, when the posters and stickers at issue appeared on rubbish bins and portable toilets near a church in Plock.

They showed a likeness of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, a revered icon of the Virgin Mary located in the devout Catholic country's Jasna Gora monastery.

Earlier that week, the leader of the governing PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, had denounced LGBT rights as a "threat" and called on Poles to respect the Catholic Church regardless of personal beliefs.

Describing the defendants as "brave", Amnesty Poland took to Twitter on Tuesday to "call on authorities to refrain from targeting and harassing any other peaceful activists".

The NGO Love Does Not Exclude, which fights for LGBT rights in Poland, hailed the acquittal as a "breakthrough".

"It's a big win on the part of the LGBT+ resistance movement and the leftists fighting for equal rights in Poland, the most homophobic country in the European Union," the NGO said on Instagram.

© 2021 AFP