Nationalist leader convicted for violence against Polish abortion protester “Grandma Kate”

Polish nationalist leader Robert Bąkiewicz has received a binding conviction for his involvement in a “hooligan act” of violence against a prominent protester for women’s and LGBT rights, Katarzyna Augustynek, widely known by her nickname of “Grandma Kate” (Babcia Kasia).

Bąkiewicz, who stood as a candidate for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party at last month’s parliamentary elections, has dismissed the ruling as a politically motivated decision by a biased judge. He says that he will not comply with the order to undertake community service and pay compensation to his victim.

Poland’s ruling party has named a leading far-right figure as one of its election candidates.

Robert Bąkiewicz, a former leader of ONR, last year warned of “Jewish blackmail” against Poland and this year was convicted of assaulting an abortion protester

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 1, 2023

The incident in question took place in October 2020 during mass protests against the decision that month by the constitutional court to introduce a near-total ban on abortion. Many of those demonstrations took place outside, and sometimes within, churches.

In response, Bąkiewicz – a former leader of the far-right National Radical Camp (ONR) and then the main organiser of the annual nationalist Independence March in Warsaw – formed a “Catholic self-defence” force to defend churches against what he called “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries”.

“If necessary, we will crush them to dust and destroy this revolution,” said Bąkiewicz at the time. He and his followers stood outside churches, preventing the entry of those they deemed to be protesters and, in some cases, physically removing them.

In one such incident, at Warsaw’s Holy Cross Church, Bąkiewicz grabbed a rainbow-coloured scarf Augustynek was wearing and threw it away. She was then dragged down the church stairs by two of his followers, who acted on Bąkiewicz’s orders, according to Augustynek.

Abortion protesters have clashed with nationalist groups who have formed defence forces to protect churches

„If necessary, we will crush them to dust and destroy this revolution,” says a far-right leader. His actions received praise from a deputy minister

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 27, 2020

In March this year, Bąkiewicz was sentenced to a year of community service and ordered to pay 10,000 zloty compensation to Augustynek after she brought a private indictment against him. However, he appealed against the ruling.

On Friday, Augustynek’s lawyer, Jerzy Jurek, announced that Bąkiewicz has now been issued with a final, legally binding conviction for “directing the committing of a hooligan act by unidentified perpetrators”. The previous punishment of community service and a fine were upheld.

Jurek shared photographs of the incident. In one, Bąkiewicz can be seen apparently pulling the scarf from Augustynek’s hand. In the other, she is being pulled down the stairs of the church by two unidentified men in masks while police officers look on. The incident left Augustynek with injuries, reports news website Interia.

In an interview with broadcaster TVN, Jurek said that Bąkiewicz had argued in court that he was acting in self-defence and in defence of the church. But the court found that there had been no attack on the church by Augustynek necessitating its defence.

#BĄKIEWICZ PRAWOMOCNIE SKAZANY za kierowanie popełnieniem wybryku chuligańskiego przez nieustalonych sprawców. Nie było obrony koniecznej, #BabciaKasia nie dopuściła się zamachu na kościół. Kara 1 rok prac społecznych + nawiązka 10 000 zł i podanie do publicznej wiadomości.

— Jerzy Jurek 🇵🇱 🇪🇺 (@JerzyJurektt) November 3, 2023

In a statement issued on Saturday, Bąkiewicz confirmed that he had lost his appeal but declared that he would not comply with the ruling as his “rights to a fair trial were repeatedly violated”.

He ridiculed the court’s claim that there had been no attack on the church, arguing that Augustynek was part of a “mob” that was “besieging the church”, whose priest had given Bąkiewicz permission to defend it. He also noted that he himself “did not even touch Katarzyna Augustynek, let alone throw her down the stairs”.

He declared that the “judicial caste” (repeating a phrase often used by PiS to justify its reform of the judiciary) “turned the criminal into a victim and the victim into a criminal”.

Wczoraj „niezawisły sąd” w dwóch instancjach, reprezentowany przez funkcjonariuszy walki o wolne sądy z Iustiti, zaordynował, że Katarzyna Augustynek vel Babcia Kasia nie jest żadną zadymiarą i przestępcą a ofiarą Roberta Bąkiewicza (sic!) Ofiara Augustynek polega na tym, że…

— Robert Bąkiewicz (@RBakiewicz) November 4, 2023

Bąkiewicz accused judges of being biased against Catholics, and of effectively authorising aggression against them. The specific judge in his case, he claimed, is a “political activist” who is part of a judges’ organisation that has opposed the government’s judicial reforms.

“I treat this verdict as political revenge [and] as training in obedience towards the anti-Polish and anti-Catholic ‘elite’,” he concluded.

“I will not abide by the ‘verdict’,” declared Bąkiewicz. “I will not do community service or pay compensation. And, when the time comes again, I will defend the church, the faith and the homeland with the same willingness and commitment.”

Those protesting against an anti-abortion ruling are seeking „to destroy Poland” and „end the history of the Polish nation”, warns Jarosław Kaczyński.

He calls on supporters of his ruling PiS party to stand in defence of churches against the demonstrators

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 27, 2020

Under the PiS government, nationalist organisations linked to Bąkiewicz have received millions of zloty in state grants. That led over 160 public figures to sign an open letter in 2021 calling on the culture minister to “stop financing fascism”.

In late August, it was announced that he would stand in the 15 October parliamentary elections as a PiS candidate. Asked at the time if Bąkiewicz’s conviction in the Augustynek case was a problem, a senior PiS figure, Marek Suski argued that it “was not a very big offence”. In the end, Bąkiewicz failed to win a seat in the elections.

Augustynek is herself a controversial figure who has been prosecuted a number of times for alleged violence and aggression during protests. In July this year, she was convicted of attacking a police officer during a demonstration.

The justice minister, however, criticised the leniency of her sentence, contrasting the small fine she was given to the three-year prison sentence received by a nationalist for an incident that took place during an LGBT march.

Prominent anti-government protester „Grandma Kate” has been convicted of assaulting a police officer

The justice minister has criticised the fact she only received a fine in contrast to a nationalist who was imprisoned for an incident during an LGBT march

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 20, 2023

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Main image credit: Tomasz Pietrzyk / Agencja Gazeta

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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