Change rape definition, stop restricting media, Europe tells Poland

by Reuters
Thursday, 16 September 2021 17:17 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators attend a protest against a decision restricting abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel/File Photo

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European institutions have criticised Poland for setbacks to women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as discrimination of gays, suggesting that the EU withholds funds to Warsaw

(Adds results of the vote)

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Poland must change its legal definition of rape to protect women and stop restricting media, European institutions said on Thursday, in the latest challenges to the ruling nationalists over rights and democracy.

Under the eurosceptic, socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Poland has fought with the European Union on issues ranging from treatment of migrants to independence of judges.

Despite protests, PiS has tightened already restrictive anti-abortion laws, introducing a de facto ban on terminating pregnancies.

The Council of Europe (CoE) - the continent's top rights watchdog - said Warsaw should increase efforts to combat sexual violence and change its definition of rape from a force-based act to one covering all non-consensual sex.

The Council is reviewing how European nations implement the 2014 Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women. Of 17 states analysed so far, only Belgium, Malta and Sweden penalise sexual violence on grounds of lack of consent alone.

"Without a consent-based definition of rape in criminal law, prosecutors will invariably decide against seeking an indictment in cases where the sexual act is undisputed, but consent is not," the CoE said in a statement.

MEDIA FREEDOM

Separately, the EU parliament voted 502-149 in favour of endorsing a resolution expressing concern over media freedoms in Poland and criticising a draft law targeting a U.S. Discovery-owned TV news channel TVN, which is critical of the government.

The non-binding resolution further laments the erosion of judicial independence, the use of litigation to silence critics, and attempts to block sex education classes.

It criticises Poland for setbacks to women's sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as discrimination of gays, saying the EU should withhold funds to Warsaw.

Nineteen of the bloc's 27 countries - but not Poland - already won European Commission approval for their national spending plans, unlocking access to tens of billions of euros from the bloc in COVID-19 recovery funds.

The Commission has also criticised Poland over lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender rights following a decision by some Polish communities to declare themselves "LGBT-free" 

The Ministry of Family and Social Policy dismissed concerns of discrimination, saying on Wednesday that it did not legally limit the right of all people to live or work there.

The Commission is likely to judge this reasoning as faulty and to tell Poland to make amends, or face a lawsuit at the top EU court, which might order redress as well as fines.

Warsaw has said it would plug the gaps in funding should the self-proclaimed "LGBT-free" zones lose EU money.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Lisa Shumaker)

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