Desecration trial opens over LGBT rainbow put on Polish icon

Human rights activists show an altered image with colors symbolizing LGBT rights as they gathered outside the provincial court in Plock, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Three activists went on trial Wednesday at the court on charges of having offending religious sentiment by adding the LGBT rainbow symbol to posters of the revered icon, The Black Madonna and Baby Jesus, and publicly displaying the altered image on garbage bins and mobile toilets. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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Associated Press

PLOCK, Poland (AP) — Three human rights activists went on trial Wednesday in Poland for alleged desecration and offending religious sentiment by adding the LGBT rights movement’s rainbow symbol to posters of a revered Roman Catholic icon and publicly displaying the altered image, including on garbage bins and mobile toilets.

The activists have said they created posters that used rainbows to replace the halos in the icon of the Black Madonna and baby Jesus to protest what they saw as the hostility of Poland’s influential Catholic Church toward LGBT people.

One of the defendants, Elzbieta Podlesna, said in court Wednesday that their 2019 action in Plock was spurred by an installation at the city’s St. Dominic’s Church that associated LGBT people with crime and negative behavior.

The three don’t deny putting the posters on walls and elsewhere around the church, but do not admit putting stickers with the image on garbage bins and toilets. They deny wrongdoing.

Polish media identified the other defendants as Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar.

The activists could face up to two years in prison if convicted on charges of offending religious sentiment and desecration of Poland’s most-revered icon, the Mother of God of Czestochowa, popularly known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

The original icon has been housed at the Jasna Gora monastery in the city of Czestochowa since the 14th century.

A group of supporters with rainbow flags and banners reading “The Rainbow Gives No Offense” gathered outside the court. A verdict was not expected Wednesday.

Podlesna was arrested in an early morning police raid on her apartment in 2019. She was detained for several hours and questioned over the posters of the icon that were placed around Plock. A court later said the detention was unnecessary and ordered damages equaling some $2,000 be awarded to her.

The case has highlighted the clash over social issues in predominantly Catholic Poland. The country’s right-wing government supports laws against insulting religious beliefs and symbols. LGBT rights advocates say the laws are used to stifle human rights and freedom of speech.