Recent threats by Polish officials against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and organisations threaten everyone’s basic freedoms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in a letter to Poland’s Prime Minister Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz.

Last week Poland’s State Prosecutor instructed local prosecutors in five municipalities to launch sweeping investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unspecified allegations of “paedophilia” and gay bars and organisations across the country have recently been closed down.

HRW said that anti-gay actions and comments by numerous officials constitute a pattern of repression in Poland.

“Poland’s leaders have stoked the fires of homophobic hatred to advance their political careers,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at HRW. “The continuing calls to restrict a minority’s basic freedoms threaten the fabric of democracy.”

In a letter sent on May 12, Mr Wierzejski, a member of the League of Polish Families urged the justice and interior ministries to investigate gay groups’ activities and financing. He claimed that “the homosexual community’s agenda is to propagate deviant attitudes among youth, and – what is worse – they are connected to a world of quasi-criminal character, including paedophilia.”

The prime minister’s ruling Law and Justice Party, struggling to achieve a parliamentary majority, recently formed a coalition with two right-wing parties, the League of Polish Families and the Self-Defence Party. Both have a record of nationalist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Roman Giertych, leader of the League of Polish Families, became deputy prime minister and minister of education. He has stated that, “There is no room, nor will there ever be any room for homosexual activism within the school system in Poland on my watch.”

On May 19, days after Wierzejski’s letter, the deputy minister of education Miroslaw Orzechowskiego, also a member of the League of Polish Families, accused the Campaign against Homophobia, a Polish gay group, of “depraving young people.” Pointing to an international seminar on gender stereotypes that the group co-sponsored in 2005, he said the ministry would work to “prevent such organisations from getting money in the future.”

In recent weeks, Mr Wierzejski has also called for a ban on a June 10 Equality March in Warsaw, warning that, “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.”

President Lech Kaczynski, the former leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, has long opposed lesbian and gay people’s rights to expression and assembly. When serving as mayor of Warsaw, he attempted to ban Gay Pride marches in 2004 and 2005. He refused to meet with the parade organisers, saying, “I am not willing to meet perverts.” During his presidential campaign, Mr Kaczynski said that he would continue to ban gay demonstrations, as “public promotion of homosexuality will not be allowed.”

When Warsaw marchers defied the ban and peacefully demonstrated in 2004, skinheads associated with the far-right All-Polish Youth assaulted them. The All-Polish Youth is affiliated with the League of Polish Families, and was founded in 1989 by Education Minister Mr Giertych. In April 2006, demonstrators from the All-Polish Youth also attacked a “March for Tolerance” in Krakow, pelting it with stones and eggs.

“Intolerance has reached the highest levels of Poland’s government, and it brings the menace of violence in its train,” said Mr Long. “Polish political leaders must condemn the voices of hatred, and affirm that human rights are for all.”

Human Rights Watch called on Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz to publicly disavow all threats and vilification directed against LGBT people and LGBT organizations. It also urged him to take all necessary steps to ensure that the June 10 2006 Equality March planned for Warsaw be permitted to proceed, and to ensure that gay pride demonstrations take place without interference or intimidation.

Gay campaigners marching for tolerance and diversity in Romania were hit with violence and protests last weekend in Bucharest and activists in Moscow were attacked at the end of last month after the Russian gay pride was banned.