Europe Newsletter December 2020

This newsletter came from the Central and Eastern Europe A.I.U.K. coordinator Ulrike Schmidt, with a report on Belarus from Tess Linton.  But it also contains information on Western Europe – specifically France – from the Western Europe coordinator Anna Radzikowska:-

“Dear Amnesty Activists and supporters

Hard and uncertain times for all of us. Please stay well and safe. As this challenging and terrifying year is drawing to a close we can think about how to challenge the roll back of democracy, civil and human rights in Europe and how to support the Human Rights defenders. Our main work over the next few months will be campaigning for Elzbieta, Joanna and Anna who are charged with ”insulting religion” for distributing posters challenging the intolerant and narrow interpretations of their local church. The trial is scheduled for the 17th January. Please continue to sign and spread the petition calling for these absurd charges to be dropped.

More information and letter writing guidelines in the newsletter. We will continue to campaign for independence of the Judiciary and the right to a fair trial in Poland and Hungary over the coming year, and we will defend the right to protest in France and Poland as well as campaign against police and vigilante violence  Please take action.

But close to home another humanitarian catastrophe is looming. The first of January will see the end of freedom of movement for European migrants in the UK. Those who have not received settled or pre-settled status by June 2021 will be in danger of deportation, they could loose access to the NHS, be prohibited from working and have no access to public funds. This is particularly affecting Roma families of whom many are working in insecure employment and zero hour contracts. Many don’t speak enough English or don’t know how to apply, and as they have experienced racism and discrimination from authorities in Central and Eastern Europe many are reluctant to approach the authorities for help. Most worryingly 16-25% of Roma children have not made an application or had an application made for them. Many Roma families are unaware that children have to apply . There is a very important role that schools can play in helping Roma children to apply who in turns will help their parents. Us amnesty members can also help. Please find attached the leaflet produced by the Roma support group. Please distribute it to your local school. And some of you might want to help practically with making applications or signpost to other organisations. More in the Newsletter.     I am wishing you all a happy , safe and health 2021. Together we can continue campaigning for Human Rights. Best regards Ulrike and Anna

Brexit  :   Roma communities under existential threat:

A humanitarian catastrophe similar to the injustice meted out to many of the children of the Windrush generation is looming :

From July 2021 European migrants without settled or pre-settled status can be deported. They might loose access to the NHS and to public funds even earlier.

Many Roma families have not applied, or have been unsuccessful in their application.

The main obstacles for Roma families applying for settled status have been:

-unawareness, due to language barriers. Many face also difficulties accessing the digital process. Covid19 made matters much worse as face to face support from advice centres has been severely reduced.

-Many have to provide proof of employment. While most are working many work in the unregulated gig economy often for employers who didn’t register them properly in order to evade tax. Proof of residency can also be provided by schools for children.

– many European Roma haven’t got passports but ID cards which need to be sent to the Home Office for processing the application. As this is their only ID they are worried the home Office might loose this most vital document.

Others have been in the UK for a long time and passports or ID cards are out of date. It has been extremely difficult for Roma from Slovakia to renew documents, with some having been told to wait 6 months or more.

Homeless Roma (of whom many are working) face particular barriers to applying, but application is their only chance of evading deportation after June 2021.

16-25 % of Roma children have not made an application or had an application made for them on their behalf.     This includes children in care. Schools can play a vital role in educating children about how to apply, help them with the process and helping them to help their parents to apply.

Crucially some of the children might be entitled to British Citizenship by right (which means no fee has to be paid) if they were born in the UK and their parents were exercising treaty rights-which means working and paying taxes at the time. Many don’t know this and again schools have a vital role to play in helping children to apply.

Please download, print and distribute this leaflet from the Roma support group with practical advice on how to apply and let me know if you can help further, either within schools, other organisations or in a personal capacity.  Below a bit of background information from the Roma support group and a link to the recording of the meeting of the All Parliamentary Group on Gipsy Roam and Travellers discussing the issue (you-Tube link) very worth-while watching, it contains a lot of useful legal advice.

Roma people have migrated to the UK in response to systemic discrimination and racism. After a thousand-year history of slavery, persecution, and prejudice, the Roma now face multiple, harsh disadvantages. A 2014 World Bank report found that in Romania “merely ‘being a Roma’ remains a key determinant of living in poverty,” and that few factors have an impact of similar magnitude on the likelihood of being in poverty.2 Roma people face poorer health, lower education outcomes and high unemployment.

Brexit has highlighted the vulnerability of Roma rough sleepers, bringing major new challenges. Firstly, EEA nationals must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to secure pre-settled or settled status – the right to lawfully remain in the UK. Roma rough sleepers often fall through the gaps, frequently failing even to apply. A principal challenge is that it is  applied for and held digitally; a lack of digital access and literacy are significant problems for Roma rough sleepers.

Additionally,  Roma rough sleepers often only possess national ID which must be sent to the Home Office to be checked. Many are sceptical of this, worried both about losing their only identification and that the information might be used to identify and deport them. RSG/PILC interviews found that although many Roma rough sleepers were now aware of the need to secure status from a ‘residence system’ (few knew its name), the majority hadn’t applied. Some have given up articulated one interviewee: “This government wants to get rid of us anyway. It doesn’t matter if we apply or not.”

Covid-19 has exacerbated these problems. More people are at risk of homelessness because of loss of income amongst self-employed and informal sector workers, some migrants have been refused Universal Credit, and the government has rescinded the ‘Everyone In’13 support offered to rough sleepers during the first lockdown. Providing support under social distancing and lockdown restrictions is also much more difficult. If these issues persist, many Roma rough sleepers and informal workers will be left without legal status after June 2021, when the EUSS deadline closes. Many organisations are campaigning for an extension of the EUSS deadline and are seeking clear guidelines on acceptable grounds for late application.

Poland :    Drop charges against Elzbieta , Anna and Joanna

Human rights defenders Elżbieta Podleśna (Ela), Anna and Joanna (please note we will not be using their last names in our public communication and campaigning) have been charged with ‘offending religious beliefs’, a criminal offence under article 196 of the Criminal Code that carries up to two years’ in prison. They are accused of using and promoting posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a halo around head and shoulders in the colours of the LGBTI flag around the city of Plock, in central Poland, at the end of April 2019.

In its current formulation, article 196 of the Criminal Code is imposing undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and should be repealed. Ela, Anna and Joanna have committed no crime and charges against the activists should be dropped.  The trial will start on 13 January 2021

In its current formulation, article 196 is imposing undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and should be repealed, and charges against the activists should be dropped. Please see below details on the analysis article 196 of the Criminal Code.

Article 196 of the C.C. for ‘offending religious beliefs’ goes against international and regional human rights standards on freedom of expression.
Article 196 makes anyone found guilty of intentionally offending religious feelings through public calumny of an object or place of worship liable to a fine, a restriction of liberty, or to imprisonment for a maximum of two years.

Having, creating or distributing posters such as the ones with the Virgin Mary with the halo in the LGBTI colours should not be a criminal offence and is protected by the right to freedom of expression. Poland is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR) as well as the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.

The right to freedom of expression (article 19 of the ICCPR, article 10 of the ECHR) also protect expressions that could be perceived as offensive.

In its current formulation, article 196 is imposing undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and should be repealed, and charges against the activists should be dropped.

Please sign and circulate the petition :

140000 signatures world-wide so far – please continue circulating.

you can also write directly to the Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro, asking for the case to be withdrawn :

You could mention that :Poland has a proud history and a great tradition for protest and public debate in demand for freedoms that have made Poland more equal and better for many. These 3 women and others  have the right to peacefully protest and freely express themselves, and to live in a society where everyone should be able to express their views and beliefs, stand against injustice, protest against it, oppose laws which can be harmful, show solidarity with other people or ideas in peaceful way without fear or facing restrictions.

Postal address : Zbigniew Ziobro   Minister Sprawiedliwosci Prokurator Generalny

AL.Ujazdowskie 11

00-950 Warzawa       Poland        e-mail :

In addition you could think of solidarity actions using social media, public stunts etc……


In the past few years, following the rise to power of the Law and Justice party, the government of Poland has undertaken significant legal and policy changes that have undermined the rule of law and threated human rights in the country. Such developments included the adoption of legislation that undermined the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal, consolidated powers in the hands of the executive branch at the expenses of an independent judiciary free from political interference, placed restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, attempted to restrict women’s rights, etc.

Numerous people have taken the streets in various towns and cities across Poland to protest. However, attending a protest in Poland requires commitment, time, a                                           lawyer’s number and determination to face the consequences which range from harassment, verbal and physical assault, and police custody, to the laying of fines or the application of criminal charges.

Already in 2016, the protesters were met with a show of force and a set of policing measures that infringed their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. In October 2017, Amnesty’s report On the streets to defend human rights ( documented a disturbing pattern of abusive police practices that were unnecessary and disproportionate. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concerns around the crackdown and criminalization of the right to protest, lastly in the June 2018 report The power of the street. Protecting the right to peaceful protest in Poland (

Limitations of the freedom of assembly and expression reflect an environment in Poland where there is an ever-shrinking space for the public to express its opposition to government policies and practices. Amnesty International criticised the use of provisions of the Code of Minor Offences and the Criminal Code against persons exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression as disproportionate and unnecessary under international human rights law.

The case against the three women activists should be seen in the broader context of harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Poland. Ela is facing several other proceedings in relation to her peaceful activism. As documented in Amnesty International’s report in 2019 ‘The power of “the street”. Protecting the right to peaceful protest in Poland’, this form of harassment is common against outspoken activists and human rights defenders. Also, recent years have seen a worsening of the situation of LGBTI people and groups in Poland with smearing and attacks. Examples of this include hateful, homophobic and dehumanizing rhetoric used by the authorities, hate speech on the Internet and in public, physical violence, intimidation, and harassment, and LGBT-free zones (see details at;


As Poland has been facing an extraordinary wave of protests across the country for the past four weeks, Amnesty International calls on the Polish authorities to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and put an end to human rights violations documented by national and regional organizations and detailed below. On 22 October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling further eroding reproductive rights in Poland.1 This ruling invalidates the constitutionality of access to abortion on the ground of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life”. This judgement is the latest manifestation of a coordinated systematic wave of attacks on women’s human rights in Poland. Poland already has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. The ruling prompted a wave of protests across the country led by women’s rights groups. These protests have since expanded in their calls that now go beyond the defence of reproductive rights and include the protection of social and economic rights. The protests are ongoing and for the past four weeks protesters have faced excessive use of force by police officers and have been subject to arbitrary detentions. Some of them were also disproportionally charged with criminal offences hampering their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

  • Mass demonstrations have exposed underlying anger at political and religious interference in people’s everyday lives.
  • On the night following the constitutional ruling on 23 October 2020, people gathered in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw to protest its latest ruling that would impose further severe restrictions on abortion in the country. Video footage shows police officers using pepper spray against a number of peaceful protesters, who were trying to protect their faces and disperse. They did not engage in violence.
  • During the Women’s Strike protests, private groups with anti-human rights agenda, describing themselves as “nationalists”, attacked protesters and physically dragged them out of churches. Law enforcement officers failed to protect and ensure the safety of those protesters. On 24 October, in Warsaw, a priest called on those groups with antihuman rights agenda to “protect” the church where he officiates from the Women’s Strike protesters. Members of those private groups proceeded to remove by force the women protesting in the church, without the intervention of the police on-site. Please find here the full Amnesty statement.



The Right to a fair trial depends on independent judges ! Amnesty has been reporting over the last 2 years voicing grave concern about the control the PIS government and particularly the Minister of Justice are exerting over the courts of Poland. Similar dangers to the vital independence of the judiciary are developing in Hungary.

“Judicial independence is not for the sake of the 3,000 judges but for the sake of 10 million people for whom it is important that an independent judge sits there.” Amnesty International’s analysis found that the concentration of power in the hands of one single NJO President causes systemic problems. The institutions of judicial self-governance (including the NJC, local judiciary councils or judges’ plenary meetings) remain weak. As a consequence of the institutional set-up established in 2012, Mrs. Tünde Handó NJO President from 2012 to November 2019, has formed a system in which all court presidents are obliged to the NJO President and any incumbent NJO President has the power to do the same. Through this mechanism, the NJO President can basically exert administrative influence on almost all levels of court presidents. Court presidents have influence on the selection and career of judges and their evaluation. They also have significant powers in case allocation, allowing them to impact how the right to a fair trial is upheld. The newly elected NJO President has not yet made any alterations to this system. Amnesty International believes that the case allocation system also seriously threatens the right to a fair trial in Hungary. This is because the system operates in a way that a client, or even a judge, does not know why a case has been allocated or re-allocated to a specific judge. Such a system gives the case allocator the opportunity to interfere and allocate a case to a judge that he/she thinks will decide the case with a desirable outcome and exclude or withdraw

certain judges from adjudicating sensitive cases. Even if case allocation is not tampered with, the severe limitations of organizational independence and the

endangered individual independence of a judge mean that respect for fair trial rights depends almost exclusively on the integrity and moral compass of the individual judge.

Thank you so much for your contribution to the rule of law regional petition, which stands at 64 343 signatures.

Most of us are closing our petitions or have already closed it. However, the topic remains important and we hope to carry on with advocacy and campaigning work around rule of law recharged and re-energized in 2021. See this report  Amnesty International Report Hungary Fearing the Unknown


 Hungary: Dark day for LGBTI community as homophobic discriminatory bill and constitutional amendments are passed

Reacting to the Hungarian parliament’s decision to adopt a law that will strip non-married couples of the right to adoption and two constitutional amendments which further restrict the rights of LGBTQ people, leading human rights organisations have come together to condemn the decision.

David Vig, Director of Amnesty Hungary, said:

“This is a dark day for Hungary’s LGBTQ community and a dark day for human rights. These discriminatory, homophobic and transphobic new laws – rushed through under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic – are just the latest attack on LGBTQ people by Hungarian authorities.”

Katrin Hugendubel the Advocacy Director at ILGA said:

“These bills further restrict the rights of LGBTI children and parents in Hungary. LGBTI children will be forced to grow up in an environment which restricts them from being able to express their identities, and children across Hungary will be refused safe and loving families, as adoption is restricted only to married heterosexual couples. This attempt to rush through these discriminatory, homophobic and transphobic new laws are part of an ongoing attack on LGBTI people by Hungarian authorities.”

Masen Davis, Executive Director at Transgender Europe said:

“Earlier this year, Hungary made it impossible for trans people to change their names and legal gender marker. We are deeply concerned for the health and safety of trans children and adults in Hungary in such a hostile climate. We call upon EU Commission President von der Leyen to address the rights of LGBT parents, the attempt to erase gender diverse children, and the ban on legal gender recognition in the Commission’s rule of law assessment and on-going Article 7 TEU proceedings against Hungary.”


Malta Demand justice for the El Hiblu 3

In Malta, three youths risk life in prison for their roles in helping fellow asylum-seekers escape torture. This case illustrates the brutality of the EU border policies aimed at keeping refugees out, enforced by Frontex the European border and coast guard agency. Click on the link and read the full story.  Call for justice for The El Hiblu 3.  Please sign and share the Petition

Demand justice for the El Hiblu 3 | Amnesty International

In March 2019, three African teenagers (aged 15, 16, 19) boarded a crowded rubber boat, fleeing Libya. Along with 108 people, they were rescued by a cargo ship, El Hiblu.

Ship captains have a legal duty to rescue those in danger at sea and take them to a safe destination. Libya is not a safe destination. The experiences refugees and migrants face there are well documented: arbitrary detention, torture, rape and exploitation.

The rescued people were promised they would be taken to safety in Europe, but as time passed, they realised they were being taken back to Libya. They began to panic, horrified at the prospect of returning to the torture they had escaped.

“People started crying and shouting: ‘We don’t want to go to Libya!’, ‘We prefer to die!’” 

Knowing he spoke English, the chief officer of the ship asked the 15-year-old boy “What can I do to get them to calm down?” The boy replied: “Don’t take us back to Libya”.

The ship turned around and set off for Malta. The three youths helped the chief officer by interpreting his words to the rest of the rescued people, calming the panicked passengers.

But media and politicians spun the story, accusing the three boys of ‘hijacking’ the El Hiblu, and the Maltese army stormed the ship. The three youths were disembarked in Malta in handcuffs, despite the police testifying that the crew were in control, no one was hurt, and nothing was damaged.

The youths are seen by many as heroes. Regardless, they now face life changing charges.


We will hopefully be able to work on this campaign for a longer term in the new year.

“Eyes on France” campaign

 Further to our previous Newsletter information on Amnesty International Report on criminalizing peaceful protests in France please find below a brief summary of the case of Odile, a 55-year-old woman human right defender prosecuted for participating in a Yellow Vests protest.

 Odile: A 55 year old woman human rights defender living with a disability and working on the rights of people living with disabilities. She founded a small organisation and has organised and participated in numerous protests. In March 2019, Odile participated in a protest organised by Yellow Vests in Toulouse. After the police formed a cordon, fired tear gas grenades and resorted to a water canon to prevent peaceful protesters from marching on a specific street, she decided to position herself in front of the water canon with her wheelchair to disrupt the police operation as she considered it completely unnecessary. Police officers grabbed the wheelchair’s remote control, making it bump into the pavement and almost causing her to fall. Then the wheelchair hit a police car and an officer standing there. Odile’s foot got squashed between the car and the chair and she sustained multiple injuries. She got prosecuted for contempt, disruption of emergency services and violence against public officials using a weapon (her wheelchair). She was convicted for violence against public officials as the other charges were dropped on procedural grounds, and given a two-months suspended sentence for violence against two officials. She was further banned by the court from participating in public assemblies in the whole district for one year as a complementary penalty. Odile’s case shows how prosecutors cautioned protesters by imposing conditions that in practice constituted a punishment without conviction as they restricted their right to freedom of peaceful assembly by banning them from attending demonstrations in a specific geographical area and for a specific amount of time. A new trial might be coming up, we will provide all relevant details as relevant in coming updates.

The Amnesty International report examines problematic areas where the French authorities restricted the right to freedom of peaceful assembly unnecessarily and disproportionately from 2018 to date, in contravention of international and regional human rights law and standards that France is party to.

Amnesty International is concerned that the French authorities have failed to respect, protect and ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly with sweeping consequences. Urgent and far reaching actions must be taken by the authorities to end the violations highlighted in the report and safeguard this crucial human right in France.

“Eyes on France” campaign aims to work towards shifting the narrative in France around the issue of protest –seen by some as leftist, rebellious, violent activity, but also dangerous and not always clear in its causes. AI aim to go back to basics and restate that everyone should be able to protest peacefully and express a dissenting opinion whenever they want to without fear for their safety or of prosecution or fines.

This campaign is one of the priorities for Amnesty France in 2020/2021 and it aims to frame the tone and the narrative to highlight a positive message and solidarity with the people peacefully protesting on the streets of France. It aims to achieve a multitude of objectives across media and communication, mobilisation and activism, advocacy and policy calls. The work at the national level will aim to support and mobilise a critical mass of ‘the street’ to support our campaign and calls, while the international part of the campaign will strengthen international criticism and scrutiny of France.

 Get involved and sign the petition

 For further reading please see this report – All eyes on France “