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European Court of Human Rights rules against Poland

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ruled against Poland for refusing to authorize gay rights rallies in Warsaw two years ago.

A non-governmental organization campaigning for gay rights submitted a request to Warsaw authorities to stage a march against discrimination of minorities and various rallies in the Polish capital in June 2005.

The group was denied permission on the grounds that they failed to submit a plan to divert traffic from the planned locations. The march went ahead regardless, attended by 3,000 people and protected by the police. But the court said the ban, which could have discouraged people from participating, violated the organizers' rights to freedom of assembly.

The court also said the ban was discriminatory, as organizers of other rallies on the same day were not asked to submit the traffic plan. The group did not seek any damages.

"It's a very important step towards equality for gay and lesbian people in Poland, and I think also in several other countries in central and eastern Europe," said Robert Biedron, president of the Campaign Against Homophobia and one of the activists who brought the case to the Strasbourg court.

Poland has been under fire recently because of a series of anti-gay comments by senior government officials, including Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski who said that it was "not in the interest of any society to increase the number of homosexuals."

The vast majority of Poland's 38 million people are members of the Roman Catholic church, which considers homosexual behavior sinful. Kaczynski's Law and Justice party, which won parliamentary elections in September, 2005, has stressed Catholic values. Law and Justice governs in cooperation with the small, right-wing League of Polish Families, which is militantly anti-abortion and anti-gay rights.

Earlier this year Poland's Deputy Education Minister Miroslaw Orzechowski said that teachers deemed to be promoting "homosexual culture" in Polish schools would be fired and the ministry announced it would draw up corresponding legislation.

The comments prompted the European Parliament to vote to send a fact-finding mission to Poland to see whether EU anti-discrimination laws are being breached. No date for the mission has been set yet.

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