21 Nov 2017

Want to protect a national forest? Be prepared to get naked at a police station

The Polish government ordered the logging of one of the oldest forests in Europe. 24 activists, who oppose it, were detained and forced to undress and withstand inappropriate comments of the police officers. 

Zuzanna Piechowicz
Zuzanna Piechowicz Tok FM, Poland
Source: Tok FM
Want to protect a national forest? Be
prepared to get naked at a police station - NewsMavens
Białowieża Forest. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

environment, politics

Białowieża Forest is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the primeval forest that once covered the lowland Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, Jan Szyszko, the Polish Minister of the Environment, has a different opinion. He claims that the forest has already been altered by men -- therefore we can interfere in it and use it to our liking, for example, by logging it.

These words -- unfortunately soon followed by actions -- caused a wave of protests in Poland and abroad. The case was brought before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The logging is also opposed by a group of environmentalists known to the media simply as “the Defenders of the Forest”.

In early November, they chained themselves to the entrance of the headquarters of the State Forests Administration in Warsaw. Their postulate remains unchanged -- stop the logging. Soon the police arrived. According to TOK FM reporter, Anna Gmiterek-Zabłocka, there were a dozen or so cruisers and about 80 policemen at the site. They ordered a group of 24 protesters to the police station.

“I was asked to undress in the presence of two policemen. Now I know that there should have been only one person in the room,” Zofia, one of the protesters, who wanted only her first name to be quoted, told TOK FM. She recalled that another activist was deprived of her menstrual cup. The protesters stripped naked and were searched in the bathrooms. They claim that the officers ordered them to bend over as they examined if no tools, such as razors, had been hidden in their bodies

Outrage among the protesters was also triggered by sexist remarks of the police officers, who called some of them "stupid women", and wondered -- "well, well, who have we caught today?". “This is a humiliating and serious incident,” another protester, Marta, said. The protesters filed complaints with the police.

In an official statement, the Headquarters of the Police addressed what they described as “false press reports”, and denied that any unlawful actions took place at the station. “Despite the presence of lawyers, none of the detainees raised any objections to the protocols. The version of the story promoted by the media is merely an unauthorized attempt to exert pressure and gain attention,” the statement reads.  

You know what? I would be delighted if the police was right. I wish Poland was not a country where peaceful protesters end up at a police station, stripped naked, while a police officer is examining their bodies in search of hidden razors. I would prefer it if the protesters were exaggerating. Yet common sense and the experiences of the last two years in Poland strongly suggest the opposite.

Details from the story:

  • The friction over logging at Białowieża Forest began in 2016 when the Ministry of Environment announced their plans. They claimed the trees needed to be cut because they were attacked by the European spruce bark beetle. The defenders of the forest believed that the government was cutting the trees for commercial purposes.
  • Recently, 24 activists, who protested against the logging, have been detained at a police station in Warsaw.
  • The activists filed a complaint against police officers who, allegedly, mistreated them.
  • The police denied the allegations.  
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