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Poland: School Censorship Proposal Threatens Basic Rights

The Polish government’s proposed legislation to censor all discussion of homosexuality in schools and other academic institutions would violate freedom of speech and impede free access to information, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

On March 13, the deputy minister of education, Miroslaw Orzechowski, said that the government is developing legislation to “punish anyone who promotes homosexuality” in schools and education establishments. Teachers, principals and students who violate the law could face dismissal, fines or prison terms.

HIV/AIDS educators who address safer sex for LGBT people would be banned from schools, as would all LGBT organizations. Orzechowski also announced on March 15 that “teachers who reveal their homosexuality will be fired from work.” The legislation, which has apparently been fast-tracked, could pass parliament by the end of the month.

“Polish authorities claim to be protecting families, but in fact they are trying to deny children free speech and lifesaving information on HIV/AIDS,” said Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program. “Schools should be training grounds for tolerance, not bastions of repression and discrimination.”

At a summit of European Union education ministers, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Roman Giertych on March 1 claimed that children are receiving “propaganda about homosexuality,” adding that this “must be limited so children will have the correct view of the family.”

The proposed legislation has the support of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. In March, the prime minister said, “Promoting a homosexual lifestyle to young people in school as an alternative to normal life goes too far. These kinds of initiatives in schools have to be stopped.”

President Lech Kaczynski, who is the prime minister’s twin brother, has made it clear that he sees homosexuality as a threat. On February 20, during a visit to Ireland, he stated, “If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear.”

The proposed homophobic legislation follows a series of recent threats and abuses against lesbian and gay Poles by state officials. In June, the State Prosecutor’s office issued a letter to prosecutors in the municipalities of Legnica, Wroclaw, Walbryzch, Opole and Jelenia Gora ordering in sweeping terms investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unspecified allegations of “pedophilia.”

Polish officials have also repeatedly tried to restrict the rights of LGBT people to free speech and assembly. In 2004 and 2005, when he was mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski intended to ban Gay Pride marches, though the parades were allowed to proceed after administrative courts held the ban unconstitutional. Authorities also tried to ban the LGBT Equality Parade in Warsaw scheduled to take place on June 10, 2006. Wojciech Wierzejski, a member of parliament from the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, or LPR) said last May, “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.”

This most recent attack on lesbian and gay rights comes at a time when homophobic policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric by Polish officials have come under increasing international scrutiny. On March 15, the president of the European Parliament reprimanded a Polish member, Maciej Giertych, for publishing an anti-Semitic pamphlet, marking the first time a member of the European Parliament was sanctioned for violations of the EU body’s principles of mutual respect.

The European Commission in December 2005 condemned Poland’s Education Ministry for rejecting a European Voluntary Service project on the stated grounds that it would “propagate homosexual behavior and attitudes.” The Commission held that “homophobia is not in accordance with the principles of the EU and is a severe violation of human rights.”

“The spread of intolerance in Poland has become an international concern and a challenge to the EU’s basic values,” said Long. “Poland fought too long and hard for its democracy to let hate-filled officials roll back essential freedoms.”

Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Kaczynski to halt the progress of the proposed legislation, prevent academic censorship, protect LGBT people’s rights in schools, disassociate his administration from rhetoric that promotes discrimination and spreads hatred, and promote equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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