BRUSSELS, Sept 16 – 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 – 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 definition to one covering non-consensual sex.
The Council is reviewing how European nations implement the 2014 Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women. Of 17 states analyzed so far, only Belgium, Malta and Sweden penalize 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,” it said in a statement.
Separately, the EU parliament was voting on a resolution expressing concern over media freedoms in Poland and criticizing a draft law targeting a US 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 criticizes 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 criticized 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.
Warsaw has said it would plug the gaps in funding should the self-proclaimed “LGBT-free” zones lose EU money.