Hate speech on social media towards a newly elected black MP, the death of a young Cape Verdean student and police violence against minorities sparked outrage and protest in Portugal. A joint handbook on gender equality and identity developed by an LGBTI NGO was implemented in schools, but faced some criticism.
LGBTI organisation, ILGA Portugal has worked on a joint handbook on gender equality and identity for schools to implement the provisions of paragraph 1 of article 12 of ‘Law no. 38/2018, of 7th August’.
Law No. 38/2018, of 7th August, establishes the right to self-determination of gender identity and gender expression and the protection of the sexual characteristics of each person. The paragraph aforementioned specifically stipulates that “the State must guarantee the adoption of measures in the educational system, at all levels of education and cycles, which promote the exercise of the right to self-determination of gender identity and gender expression and the right to the protection of people's sexual characteristics.”
Several schools have promptly adopted this provision and no major opposition has been recorded. The goal of the guidelines is to raise awareness on gender-related issues for students, teachers and parents. This handbook has also been labelled as a guide for gender sensitivity for bathrooms and should be referred to when making the case for students who choose a specific bathroom facility which they feel more comfortable with. This point has caused some criticism and controversy, particularly around transgender persons’ use of bathrooms which align with their gender identity.
The Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality clarifies that the provision says that “the will of children in gender transition must be respected in order to safeguard their intimacy and privacy, which does not mean that they will all “walk around each other's bathrooms”.
The parties supporting the criticism were reiterating their “gender ideology”. They raised criticism through an online petition which calls for a suspension of the guidelines.
Government nonetheless has strongly supported the implementation of these guidelines. ILGA Portugal has had positive feedback from schools who have requested support in implementing the handbook. Both the Federation of Schools and many parents have endorsed this project.
Parliamentary elections were held in October 2019 and for the first time since the fall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974, a deputy belonging to the newly formed far-right and populist party Chega (meaning "Enough") won a seat in Parliament. The party’s popularity has been growing since. As the Socialist Party did not obtain the majority to form a government by itself, it formed an agreement (not a formal coalition) with the Left Block and the Communist Party, in order to obtain the majority needed to approve the state budget.
In addition, for the first time, three black women of African descent - Romualda Fernandes, Beatriz Gomes Dias, and Joacine Katar Moreira - were elected to Parliament. Following this, Moreira, who belongs to the Livre Party, pushed forward a law to return stolen pieces of art to former colonies of Portugal. This sparked racist responses, particularly through social media and national media which fuelled the debate through hate speech and smear campaigns. One of the responses came from Andre’ Ventura, the MP elected from the right-wing party Chega, who expressed hateful comments towards Moreira. On his Facebook page he wrote: “I propose that Mrs Joacine should herself be returned to her country of origin”. Moreira was born in Guinea-Bissau, hence this remark.
André Ventura pede a deportação de Joacine Katar Moreira, expressão de racismo e falta de noção democrática.— Pedro Filipe Soares (@PedroFgSoares) January 28, 2020
Este ato exige de todos uma frontal condenação.
É isso que proporemos ao Presidente da Assembleia da República e a todos os parlamentareshttps://t.co/iXR5kvgEs8
According to Francisco Venes from Academia Cidades, Portugal has serious systemic issues with racism. This is visible not only in the media but has also been proven by several episodes of police violence which specifically targeted minorities.
On the matter of police violence towards minorities, newspaper Diario de Noticias writes:
“A violence that is systemic in the areas inhabited by non-white people, mainly in the peripheral neighbourhoods of the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon and Oporto, and used to repress and terrorise, to subjugate and dehumanise black, gypsy and poor people, obliterating and violating their most basic human rights, their dignity, full citizenship, capacity for social organisation and political agency.”
This issue has also caught the attention of international organisations, as the article reports:
“Portugal is not a safe country for blacks, gypsies and Roma, and has been listed among the member states of the European Union as the country in Western Europe with the highest number of cases of police violence, according to data from the 2018 Anti-Torture Committee of the Council of Europe.”
In December 2019, Luís Giovani, a young Cape Verdean student was killed in Bragança, a small city in the north of Portugal. He was beaten up outside a club by a group of 10 to 15 men. Of the perpetrators, only five have been identified.
The incident received little attention from mainstream media. Police investigation has stalled and has been quite inconclusive thus far. Anti-racism organisations claim that the attack was a hate crime, while Luís Neves, National Director of Judicial Police, ruled out racial motivation in the assault and murder of the boy. "Contrary to what has been reported on social networks and with less expression in the media, this is not a crime between nationals of this or another country, nor between races [...].” He added that the origin of the incident was due to “futile motives”.
Another case of police violence occurred during January 2020 in Lisbon. Cláudia Simões, a black woman, was detained extremely violently by the police. The incident occurred when she got onto a bus with her daughter, who realised that she had forgotten her travel card. The bus driver reacted aggressively towards them and after a few stops this caught the attention of the police. Simões claims that the police refused to listen to her, and she was subsequently handcuffed and arrested with excessive force. She adds that she was put into a car and punched for the entire journey by a police officer who hurled racial slurs at her such as “motherf***er', 'motherf***ing n*****.”
When the officers in the car realised that Simões was about to pass out, they took her to the hospital. After being discharged, the police officers wanted to force her into signing papers to present herself in court as an accused, but she refused to do so.
A video shows her condition after her detention, with bruises she did not have before the arrest.
According to media reports, due to claims of police violence, the Minister of Internal Administration (MAI) ordered an inquiry into police action in the case of Simões’ arrest.
Following the arrest and assault of Simões, on 1st February 2020, anti-racist groups and associations called for a mobilisation.
About 500 people protested against police treatment of minority groups, racism and the inactivity of the government. MPs Beatriz Dias from the Bloco de Esquerda and Joanice Katar Moreira from the Livre Party, who was also subject to racist remarks (see above), attended the protest.
It is important to highlight that it was only last year - in February 2019 -that there was a historic ruling where eight police officers were found guilty of police violence and abuse of authority. The ruling refers to an event which occurred in 2015 in the metropolitan area of Lisbon, when a group of young people belonging to a minority group went to the police station to inquire about a friend who had been arrested. They were arrested and beaten.
Although crimes of torture and racial motivation were presented as aggravating causes, these were dismissed in the final court ruling. The police officers were charged with aggravated kidnapping, offences against physical integrity, insult, slanderous reporting and false testimony. Of the 18 accused, only eight were convicted, of which one was sentenced to effective imprisonment.
At the end of 2019, an association affiliated to a police union which is supported by the deputy of the far-right party and known for its racist rhetoric, stated that police officers are victims of anti-racism groups. A man who used to be a member of the police union was expelled after speaking out against the evident structural problem with police violence in Portugal.
On 29th November 2019, thousands of students took to the streets in eight cities in Portugal, calling for action on climate change.
No violence was reported at the marches.
For the first time in Portugal, in November 2019, a court acknowledged and handed down a conviction in a case of anti-LGBTI hate crime in Coimbra. A father, mother and son were accused and found guilty of assaulting a homosexual couple in July 2018. They were sentenced to prison terms and ordered to compensate the victims of the crime by the Coimbra court.