Poland's plan to exit a European treaty on preventing and combatting domestic violence is dominating the country's public debate, highlighting the rifts within society and the government itself.
Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro on Monday formally filed a motion with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy to withdraw from the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, which Poland had ratified in 2015.
According to Ziobro and other members of the radical faction in Poland's governing coalition, the convention's real aim is to promote "gender ideology" rather than combat domestic violence.
Critics like Ziobro claim the document is an attack on the institution of family and marriage and reject what they see as a suggestion that domestic violence may be linked to religion.
One of the articles of the convention obligates signatories to "ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called 'honour' shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence."
"There can be no consent for smuggling ideology under the guise of protecting rights of people who suffer from violence," Ziobro's deputy Michal Wojcik told TVN24 broadcaster.
According to Ziobro, Poland is one of the countries that provides the best standards of protection to victims of domestic violence, better than those included in the document.
The plans to withdraw from the convention triggered street protests in cities across Poland on Friday and raised concern in the Council of Europe.
"Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe," Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said as cited on the council's website.
The council's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) said in a statement late Monday that the announcement of initiating the withdrawal procedure is reason "for serious concern."
"We regret the mis-representations and deliberate misinformation about the aims and purpose of the Istanbul Convention and their use for narrow ideological purposes," PACE officials wrote.
A "horrible development"
The Left parliamentary caucus in Poland will try to broker a meeting with Pejcinovic Buric and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in order to prevent the "horrible development of withdrawing from the convention and leaving Poland... without international protection against violence," left-wing lawmaker Wanda Nowicka told PAP agency.
Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, of the centrist party Civic Platform, called the Justice Ministry's plan a "scandal" and "another attack by the government against women's rights."
The European Commission also addressed the issue, reiterating that the European Union's adhesion to the convention remains a priority, commission spokesperson Jahnz Adalbert said.
Ziobro's plan must still to be approved by the entire government.
The head of the prime minister's chancellery, Michal Dworczyk, said on Monday that the cabinet is yet to make an "official, unequivocal decision" on withdrawing from the convention.
"The emotional excitement of some groups is definitely premature," deputy spokesperson of governing national-conservative party Law and Justice Radoslaw Fogiel said, stressing that there is no consent for "any violence, especially towards women or children."