Thousands marched in anti-government protests in Warsaw and other cities across Poland on Sunday as part of renewed protest at a recent attempt to tighten the country’s abortion law, among other issues.
Hundreds of people in the capital, many in face masks, joined a demonstration and chanted anti-government slogans and carried pro-choice banners, as well as Polish, EU and rainbow flags.
Protests have been held regularly on the streets of Polish cities since a top court ruled in October that women are not allowed to have an abortion even if a foetus has severe health defects.
The demonstrators’ path was blocked several times by police blockades, but the crowd eventually made it to the northern district of Zoliborz, near the house of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing right-wing Law and Justice party and Poland’s most powerful politician.
Organizers had described the protest as a spontaneous walk to skirt coronavirus restrictions and limits on public gatherings. The protesters marched under the slogan “We are going for freedom. We are going for everything!”
As in the case of previous protests, access to Kaczynski’s home was blocked by numerous police officers in riot gear and vehicles. The police repeatedly called on the crowd to disperse.
Nearly two months after the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, the ruling is yet to be published, which is a necessary condition for tighter abortion rules to fully enter into force. As demonstrations continue, they have morphed into a voice of broader protest.
The Sunday protests also included other disenchanted groups, including representatives of businesses unhappy with lockdown measures.
The protests coincided with the 39th anniversary of the introduction of martial law in Poland, which had been an illegal attempt by the Communist regime to quash the rise of Solidarnosc (Solidarity), a grassroots independent trade union and pro-democracy movement.
During the Sunday march in Warsaw, protesters compared the police actions to those of the repressions of the communist state during martial law.
In recent weeks, police in Poland came under criticism from demonstrators and the opposition for excessive use of force during recent demonstrations.
Ahead of the march, organizers wrote on social media that the governing party “PiS is conducting a war with the entire world: with the youth, with teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, public sector employees, with Europe. Without introducing a state of emergency, they have in fact introduced martial law.”
Smaller protests took place in other Polish cities, including Krakow, Szczecin, Lodz, Olsztyn or Bydgoszcz.