Earlier this month, BEHEMOTH frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski was convicted for offending religious feelings by a court in Warsaw. The charges stemmed from an image the Polish musician posted on social media showing a foot stamping on a picture of the Virgin Mary.
Darski was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 złoty (approximately $4,000) and court costs of almost 3,500 zloty (approximately $942). However, since Darski has contested the judgment, the case will now go to trial.
In a new interview with The Irish Times, Nergal said he is appealing his conviction because not doing so will result in him having a criminal record and therefore not being able to tour in many countries, including the United States and Australia.
"I don't think the public know the details of the level of harassment I have been through," he said. "It is getting monstrous, and it is a growing tide of censorship and harassment. Every few weeks, I have to check myself in at the police and go for different hearings and spend a fortune on lawyers with all the costs around court cases.
"I am being the perfect target," he continued. "The Polish authorities just pick on me. It is not a secret that a prosecution officer has me as his favorite scapegoat. He follows my Instagram account. Can you imagine that? It's insane and absolutely unprecedented."
After Darski shared the image on his social media in September 2019, an ultraconservative legal group, Ordo Iuris, and an organization called the Patriotic Society (Towarzystwo Patriotyczne) notified prosecutors that Darski had "offended the religious feelings of four people," including a local politician from Poland's conservative ruling coalition, reported Notes From Poland.
Poland is a predominantly Catholic country and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's policies are strongly in line with Catholic teachings.
"We are going backwards in time, more backward thinking," Nergal told The Irish Times. "It is a violation of the most basic human laws. It is not just me. There are different artists being harassed by police and self-proclaimed censors.
"They forget that Poland is still a pluralisatic country," he continued. "It is not a Catholic or a totalitarian state. We are a democratic and pluralistic democracy, which means we can say what we want about other religions. The authorities are trying to censor us and shut us down.
"We can't be part of the European Union if we are upholding different standards. We have a blasphemy law, and we are the only country in Europe that still holds to that law — and that is insane. That is an excuse for all of those people, all those opportunists. I must win, because we can't see my case becoming a precedent. People like myself need to be protected to freely express themselves."
Article 196 of Poland's penal code says that "Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years."
Amnesty International has previously called on the Polish authorities to repeal or amend legal provisions, such as article 196 of the Criminal Code, that criminalize statements protected by the right to freedom of expression.
According to Human Rights Watch, international human rights law permits states to impose certain restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression only if such restrictions are provided by law and are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the protection of certain specified public interests (national security, public order, protection of health or morals) or for the protection of the rights of others (including the right to protection against discrimination).
This is not the first time Nergal has encountered legal problems in Poland related to his social media activities. Back in January 2018, it was announced that Nergal was being formally charged by Polish authorities in a case involving BEHEMOTH's "Republic Of The Unfaithful" tour artwork and merchandise, which was said to be "insulting" to the national coat of arms of Poland, a stylized white eagle with a golden beak and talons, and wearing a golden crown, in a red shield. Nergal and Maciej G., who, as the band's webmaster, promoted the tour online, were accused of publicly affronting the Polish national emblem, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison. Also charged was Rafał Wechterowicz, the graphic artist who worked on the BEHEMOTH artwork. Three months later, Nergal posted an update via Instagram, revealing that "all the absurd charges" against him were "dismissed."
In 2011, Nergal was acquitted in Poland on charges he insulted religious sentiment when he called the Catholic Church "the most murderous cult on the planet" during the band's September 2007 performance in Gdynia and tore up a copy of the Bible, calling it "a book of lies."