Thousands of LGBTQ+ rights supporters gathered in Warsaw to protest the arrest of a transgender activist.

Malgorzata Szutowicz, best known as ‘Margot’, was detained by authorities on Friday (7 August) and placed under two-months arrest for carrying out acts of “civil disobedience” against rising homophobia in Poland.

She belongs to a queer rights group called Stop Bzdorum – translated to “Stop the Nonsense” – which has gained notoriety for placing rainbow flags on statues around Warsaw, including one of Jesus Christ, an act that has been met with widespread backlash from the conservative government.

Protestors surrounded the police car after Margot was arrested in central Warsaw, with one climbing on the roof to prevent them from driving away.

The protests continued the next day with thousands of demonstrators chanting “you will not lock us up!” while wearing masks to combat the coronavirus pandemic. There were also protests in Krakow, Lublin and Wroclaw.

Online footage shows authorities using rough tactics against protestors, 48 of which were arrested in connection with “insults directed at police as well as damage to a police car”.

According to Warsaw police spokesman Sylwester Marczak, “there was damaged property, damage to health and an illegal gathering.”

The Campaign Against Homophobia, a Warsaw-based group, hit out at the police for “aggressively pushing the protesters out of the way, knocking people to the ground and holding them down with their boots.”

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro defended the police’s behaviour, saying: “Perhaps the knife that was used to destroy the van back then will be used for a bigger crime next time. There can be no license for this type of attack… we have to agree with this and stand together against criminals.”

Dunja Mijatovic, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, called for her immediate release on Twitter, writing: “Order to detain her for 2 months sends very chilling signal for #FreedomOfSpeech & #LGBT rights in #Poland.”

Homophobia is still rife in the devout Catholic country. During last month’s presidential campaign, President Andrzej Duda – a staunch ally of Poland’s ruling right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), which strongly opposes LGBTQ+ rights – ramped up the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in an attempt to win over his conservative fanbase.

He blasted marriage equality, vowed to ban same-sex couples from adopting children and said the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights was an “ideology” more harmful than communism.

Last year, a third of Poland also declared themselves an “LGBT-free zone” free from “LGBT ideology.” The European Union later denied funding to six of these Polish towns, with European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, explaining that “EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by Member States and state authorities.”

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, said “every person in Europe is free to be who they are, live where they like, love who they want and aim as high as they want,” and that she will “continue to push for a #UnionOfEquality”.

In response to the EU’s decision to deny funding, Janusz Kowalski, the Polish Minister for State Assets, said the whole of Poland should be an “LGBT-free zone,” noting that the country’s constitution only recognises a family as between a man and a woman.

“We must not allow a single euro to be taken from Poland, Polish local governments, any Polish institutions for complying with the law, for saying ‘no’ to LGBT ideology, for protecting the Polish family,” he told Rzeczpospolita.

“First and foremost, Poland should be a LGBT-free zone. We should adopt a law that prohibits financing from public funds, or at the state or local government level, of any activities of organizations that explicitly promote LGBT.”

To show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and to protest the country’s increasing right-wing tactics, 10 MPs from Poland’s “Left” grouping all wore rainbow masks and outfits in the shades of the rainbow as President Duda was sworn in in the lower house of parliament last week.

“We wanted to remind President Andrzej Duda that … in the constitution there is a guarantee of equality for all,” said Left MP Anna Maria Zukowska. “We don’t want a similar situation during his next term as there was during his campaign, when the president dehumanized LGBT people by denying them the right to be people.”

A petition calling for Poland to abolish current anti-LGBTQ+ laws and to protect queer people has, as of writing, gained over 590,000 signatures. You can sign here.

Related: Gay couple protesting Poland’s “LGBT-free zones” with rainbow face masks.