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Defend the Defenders


Human Rights Day 2022: Defend the Defenders in Poland

Marta, Klementyna and Justyna of the Polish Women’s Strike face prison sentences for exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Two years ago, Poland brought into force one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, banning it in almost all circumstances.

Protests against this cruel, regressive ban erupted across Poland, and peaceful protesters were met with excessive force, with authorities using tear gas, pepper spray, and physical assault.

Two years on, we are seeing escalating attacks against women’s human rights defenders – often orchestrated and encouraged by the Polish authorities. 

Marta, Klementyna, and Justyna of the Polish Women’s Strike face prison sentences for exercising their right to peaceful protest. The prosecution is using the pretext of the pandemic to disguise politicized attacks and drag them to court. 

These are their stories.


Marta is an activist and leader of the Polish Women's Strike. Cases were filed against her for organizing protests at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, charges which could amount to an eight-year prison sentence. Marta has had 106 cases brought against her.

Criminal cases tend to be brought more frequently against organisers but also participants of protests based on COVID regulations, traffic blocks or charged for hanging posters, as well as bogus claims like ‘destroying property’ and littering in public. If they can’t put you in jail, they want to cripple you financially, Marta says.

"Misdemeanour fines can be hefty, legal fees are high and your freedom is curtailed. You are forced to stay in same city, register every week at the police station if there are more than two or three fines. It’s a huge financial burden. The punishment goes up for repeat offences and if you don’t pay the fines."

Read Marta's full story here



Justyna, a mother of three and a survivor of domestic abuse, is the founder of Women on the Net, and off shoot of Women on Web, which is specifically geared towards Polish women. She is also the co-founder of the Abortion Dream Team, an activist group campaigning against abortion stigma and offering non-judgmental advice on how to access safe abortion.

On 22 November 2021, the Prosecutor brought criminal charges against Justyna for assisting an abortion, even though the abortion never actually took place, and for possession of medicines without authorisation. She could serve up to three years in prison, if convicted.

"Empathy shouldn’t be punished, especially when someone is asking you for help," says Justyna. "I feel there is only one chance to show that the law is extremely harmful. Even if I get a jail sentence, I am ready. I think this battle is bigger than just about my freedom. I know the moment it happens, we will appeal, and hopefully my sentence will be reduced. This isn’t about me, it’s about the whole movement. If we show we are afraid, then the whole the movement will be afraid."

Read Justyna's full story here



Klementyna, a researcher by profession, first got involved in activism in 2016 after the ban on abortion was presented in the Polish parliament. 

"It all started for me when the idea of a ban of abortion was presented in parliament. Like many others, I engaged in the protests and from there I became part of the movement. I had a 13-year-old daughter and couldn’t believe that she might have her reproductive rights more restricted than I ever had," she said.

Klementyna is pragmatic when she talks about the challenges women’s rights defenders face in Poland; an act of self-preservation in the face of mounting charges brought against her by the current ultra-conservative PiS government. She has been accused of inciting and leading protests in the wake of increasingly regressive abortion legislation in the country and faces up to eight years in prison, if convicted. 

Read Klementyna's full story here






European Network

The International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network is asking people to rise up and support Polish freedom fighters by donating to its #DefendTheDefenders initiative, where funds are used for continued legal assistance in court cases and psychological support and assistance.

It is also asking decision-makers and the EU to hold the Polish government accountable and protect the safety of human rights defenders.

To read more stories from Polish women's rights defenders, and to learn more on the campaign's specific asks visit the Defend the Defenders website.