Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. According to national police statistics, in the first six months of the year police sent 1,297 cases involving alleged rape to prosecutors for indictment and another 26 cases (involving underage offenders) to family courts.
While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.
During the first half of the year, police identified 964 cases of alleged domestic violence.
The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents if the perpetrator was a police officer or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence. During 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 2,505 interagency teams operated around the country, assisting more than 180,000 persons. According to some NGOs, interagency teams focused on resolving the “family problem” rather than initially treating claims of domestic violence as criminal matters.
Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years in prison.
According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).
The plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all.
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: A government ombudsman for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsman’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. In 2016 the ombudsman received 46,213 complaints of infringements of children’s rights. Of those complaints, 11 percent concerned the right to protection against abuse. The government continued running advertising campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.
On July 13, a revision of the criminal law introduced a legal obligation to report any case of child abuse to law enforcement and introduced harsher penalties for crimes against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The country’s legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although the guardianship court may grant permission for girls as young as age 16 to marry under certain circumstances.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics were available, courts convicted 604 persons of sexual intercourse with persons under age 15 and seven persons of pimping minors.
Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three months to 10 years. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and pedophiles.
According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on radio and social media. Jewish organizations expressed concern about their physical safety and security.
On August 4, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (ZGWZ) sent a letter to PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski expressing deep concern over increased anti-Semitic attitudes, hate speech, and violent behavior, which it said left the group fearing for Jews’ future in the country, and asking for intensified government action. On November 17, Kaczynski met with ZGWZ leaders and the chief rabbi of Poland to discuss the safety of Jewish communities. He stated he had been shocked upon hearing of recent anti-Semitic incidents and promised to help set up a meeting between Jewish community representatives and Interior and Administration Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.
According to a Warsaw University Prejudice Research Center report published January 24, anti-Semitic attitudes in the country rose between 2014 and 2016, particularly among young people. The report showed a growing acceptance of anti-Semitic attitudes and popularity of anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet and television.
Jewish community leaders described an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year, including hostile phone calls to community centers, vandalism of offices, attempted forced entry of community property, and a fake bomb found at a Jewish cemetery.
On August 2, a group of masked pseudo soccer fans attacked two members of the technical staff of the Israeli Hapoel Petach Tikvah team after its exhibition game against MKS Ciechanow. MKS Ciechanow condemned the incident. The victims chose not to file a complaint to police, and there was no investigation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that, according to police, it was a hooligan attack.
On November 11, the annual “Independence March” in Warsaw drew more than 50,000 marchers, including some from extremist groups elsewhere in Europe. The march was organized by a coalition of groups, including the extremist groups National Radical Camp and All Polish Youth. The main theme of the march was “We want God!” Most participants marched with Polish flags. Some participants displayed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim imagery, and there were slogans calling for a “white Europe,” and Nazi salutes. Polish political leaders, including President Andrzej Duda and Law and Justice Party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski condemned the racist banners and chants. A November 13 Foreign Ministry statement condemned “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideas” and stated that the march was “largely patriotic.”
Piotr Rybak, convicted in 2017 of burning an effigy of a Jew at a demonstration against immigration, led a separate Independence Day march in the western city of Wroclaw with approximately 2,000 participants. Jacek Miedlar, a former priest who co-led the march, called on the crowd to take “extreme action” against “forces of evil,” including Jews who “threatened” the state.
On March 21, a group of Warsaw residents celebrated the first day of spring by burning an effigy of a Jewish woman.
On March 2, a Radio Maryja commentator made anti-Semitic comments on his regularly scheduled broadcast, asserting that young people are rejecting the “noxious legends” told to them by Jewish communists and looking for their “roots” and “real” heroes.
On February 27, the Lublin district court sentenced five men to six- to eight-month suspended prison sentences for public offense and incitement to hatred on national grounds for hanging anti-Semitic posters around the city of Lublin between 2012 and 2014. One of the convicted persons was a former Majdanek Nazi concentration camp worker.
In January Holocaust survivors, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, and other political and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the government effectively enforced these provisions, there were reports of some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.
The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year.
On December 20, the National Prosecutor’s Office reported prosecutors had investigated 696 new cases of hate crimes in the first six months of the current year–an increase of almost 23 percent over the previous year.
The NGOs Never Again and Open Republic reported a noticeable increase in the total number of hate crimes, pointing out that, although perpetrators mainly used hate speech in the past, violent attacks had also increased. For example, there were isolated incidents of racially motivated violence, including verbal and physical abuse, directed at persons of African, Asian, or Arab descent.
On January 2, police detained 28 protesters who vandalized a kebab restaurant in Elk after a Tunisian employee allegedly stabbed a Polish man to death for stealing two beverage bottles from the restaurant. Protesters smashed windows and chanted anti-immigrant slogans. On January 3, unknown perpetrators threw a bottle with gasoline into a kebab store in Wroclaw run by an Egyptian resident.
On August 5, five men attacked a black Polish boxer at a Szczecin nightclub, shouting racial insults and attacking him with an axe. The victim was hospitalized, and police were investigating the case at year’s end.
In June several Muslim organizations submitted a written appeal to the speaker of the lower house of parliament to protect the Muslim minority in the country. The authors asserted that political debates reinforced anti-Muslim messages in media and could lead to an escalation of xenophobic behavior against Muslims.
Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.
On July 12, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Limanowa municipal authorities’ plan to resettle a Romani family to a neighboring municipality was not valid. The court ruling ended a case started in February 2016, when Czchow municipal authorities protested the resettlement of Romani community members after municipal authorities from neighboring Limanowa purchased and renovated property in Czchow to resettle three Romani families living in a dilapidated building.
Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.
During the year the government allocated 10 million zloty ($2.8 million) for programs to support Roma communities, including for educational programs. In addition, the Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interiors and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.
While at the national level approximately 80 percent of Roma were unemployed, levels of unemployment in some regions reached nearly 100 percent.
The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On May 27, a group verbally and physically assaulted 15 Ukrainians and their employer in the northeastern village of Chwaszczyno. Police arrested seven men who were charged with verbally attacking and violently threatening the victims on the grounds of their national identity.
On August 21, the Przemysl local court sentenced 20 persons to four to 10 months of community service for disrupting the June 2016 religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church members who were marching from the local cathedral to the military cemetery to commemorate the Ukrainian soldiers who fought for Poland from 1918 to 1920.
Extremist groups, while small in number, maintained a public presence in high-profile marches and on the internet and disrupted lectures or debates on issues they opposed. On April 29, several hundred members of the extremist National Radical Camp chanted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant slogans during an organized march through Warsaw marking the 83rd anniversary of the group’s founding. Red Watch, a webpage run by the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor, listed by name “traitors of the race,” politicians, and activists. The entries often included the home addresses and telephone numbers of the persons listed. Authorities stated they could not do anything, since the site’s servers were located outside the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity, but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The prime minister’s plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary’s office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The human rights defender continues to work on LGBTI human rights cases.
NGOs and politicians reported increasing acceptance of LGBTI persons by society but also stated that discrimination was still common in schools, workplaces, hospitals, and clinics. There were some reports of societal discrimination against LGBTI persons, but NGOs maintained that most cases went unreported.
On June 9, unknown perpetrators broke into the office of Stonewall Group, a Poznan-based LGBTI organization and main organizer of the Poznan Equality Parade. In May unknown perpetrators broke windows in the office of Campaign against Homophobia, the largest NGO promoting LGBTI rights in the country.
On March 15, the Poznan prosecutor’s office decided to press charges against a man who verbally and physically assaulted an LGBTI couple in Poznan on March 1. Prosecutors did not automatically pursue homophobic hate crimes and required a formal complaint, unlike the crimes committed on racist, religious or xenophobic grounds. The prosecutors decided it was in the public interest to prosecute the Poznan case.
On September 14, the Poznan local court imposed a 500 zloty ($139) fine on a self-defense instructor who refused to provide training to the Stonewall Group, arguing he did not support same-sex unions, especially those who raise children, and did not want to be identified with something with which he disagrees.
On September 19, Justice Minister and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro appealed to the Supreme Court to review an upheld misdemeanor conviction against a Lodz printer who refused services to the LGBT Business Forum Foundation in 2016. The trial court found the printer guilty of a misdemeanor but did not impose a sentence. The district court judge upheld the decision on the grounds that equality is a chief principle of the country’s legal order and everyone has the right to be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation.
On December 13, a Warsaw hotel and restaurant vocational school formally issued an apology to one of its former students for the harassment he suffered because of his sexual orientation. The apology followed a November 17 Warsaw Appellate Court ruling that the student’s personal dignity and privacy were violated while he attended the school and school administrators and teachers did nothing to prevent it.