Portugal: Climate Change Protests and HRD Faces Charges
Portugal continues to maintain its protection of civic freedoms. In the Freedom House 2023 report, Portugal was ranked - free - and received a positive score on media freedom and expression in the 2023 Reporters Without Borders report.
In December 2022, Internal Administration Minister José Luís Carneiro announced that since 2019, 107 police officers had been dismissed or forced to retire due to evidence of rule of law violations found in the Public Security Police (Polícia de Segurança Pública) and the National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Republicana). These violations include the “dissemination of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and hate speech in the police force, as well as monitoring practices”.
There have been an increasing number of protests over the cost of living, high unemployment rates, and climate change, in addition to concerns about rising cases of social injustice and racial discrimination in society and in the police force.
On 25th April 2023, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated in his speech at the commemorative session of the 49th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution that Portugal must apologise and take responsibility for “the exploitation and slavery during the colonial period”.
On April 29th, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination shared its concerns about the racial discrimination that certain groups face in Portugal. According to the findings, “Africans and people of African descent are victims of multiple and intersectional racism and discrimination, particularly in areas such as political participation, access to employment, housing, health, education, social security, and the workplace”. It has also raised concerns about how its history and legacy of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade continue to fuel racism and discrimination in Portugal.
The Committee has called for the Portuguese government to implement better policies to improve the living conditions of Africans and people of African descent and formally apologise for its role in slavery and colonialism. Additionally, the Council of Europe had previously stated that Portugal must “do more to confront its colonial past and its role in the transatlantic slave trade in order to help fight racism and discrimination in the country today”.
Civil society contributes to government strategy
In November 2022, Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD, the largest network of Portuguese NGOs, contributed to the initial phase of public consultations on the permanent dialogue for the Portuguese Cooperation Strategy 2030 (ECP 2030). This is an important strategy which replaces the Strategic Concept of Portuguese Cooperation 2014 to 2020 and is a guiding instrument for public policy in international development cooperation. In addition, Plataforma continued to organise debates and consultations to generate and provide inputs into the ECP 2030 and improve the overall position of civil society to influence public policy.
LGBTQI+ rights and civil society
In February 2023, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) released its annual review of the countries in Europe and Central Asia in 2022. Findings show that Portugal is ranked 9th out of European and Central Asian countries based on factors including hate speech, equality, the right to protest and association, legal recognition of gender, and public participation.
In March 2023, Anémona, an initiative to “promote and protect the health of trans and non-binary persons,” was officially recognised as an association. A new regulation was implemented to protect transgender prisoners and end discrimination between prison guards. The opening of the second LGBTQI+ community centre in Funchal, Madeira also took place.
Whilst conversion therapy remained a current practice in 2022, in April 2023, Portugal’s Parliament passed the first reading of several bills on LGBT+ rights, including a ban on conversion therapy. The left socialist party (BE) proposed an amendment to the Penal Code which would establish “penalties of up to two years imprisonment for anyone found to be responsible for practices that facilitate or promote such therapies”.
Government pledges to address gender inequality
On International Women’s Day 8th March 2023, Greve Feminista Internacional movement (International Feminist Strike) organised a protest over women’s issues in Portuguese society, including femicide, transphobia, salary inequalities and racism.
Though women continue to experience gender-based violence and underrepresentation in positions of power, women’s rights and gender equality in Portugal have significantly progressed. According to a report by the World Bank, Portugal is one of the 14 countries in the world in which women have more equal rights and legal protection as men in terms of salary, mobilisation, parenthood, assets, and pensions. In addition, women around Portugal have been very vocal about the importance of raising awareness of the inequalities and domestic violence that they face, and the government has pledged to keep working on gender equality and inclusion.
Teacher strikes and protests over cost of living crisis
Since December 2022, there have been frequent strikes organised by the All Professionals of Education Union (Stop), which includes the national federations of Education and Teachers (FNE and Fenprof), over salaries and working conditions in the education sector.
In February 2023, mass protests took place across Portugal over the cost of living crisis and inflation. The Fair Life movement organised the demonstrations to call for “higher wages, a cap on the prices of essential goods and government action on housing” as the cost of food has increased by 29% since 2022. In April 2023, thousands of protesters demonstrated against the housing crisis and significant increases in rent.
Climate justice protests
In 2023, climate change activists and organisations in Portugal have started using more civil disobedience approaches to call for action on the climate. Some example of these protests are as follows:
- On 13th February, activists from Stop the Gas (Parar o Gás) protested against Galp, a Multinational Portuguese energy company, by covering the company’s headquarters in yellow paint.
- On 3rd March, Student Climate Strike activists, a movement demanding the “the end of fossil fuels by 2030 and 100% renewable electricity accessible to all families by 2025” approved further protest actions and the occupation of 12 schools across Portugal in the coming months.
- Other climate movements are using the occupation of schools and universities as a protest method. A new wave of occupations was planned on 26th April by the Fim Ao Fóssil: Ocupa! (End to Fossil Fuels: Occupy!) movement.
- On 29th April, a climate activist collected 650,000 cigarette butts and piled them up in the Commerce Square in Lisbon to raise awareness on the high-levels of littering and pollution in Portugal.
- On 13th May, mass protests were organised by the Stop the Gas organisation at the Fossil Gas entrance at the Sines gas port. Activists chained themselves to the gate to block the passage of petrol trucks in the area.
In general, media freedom in Portugal remains strong and robust, with journalists able to report without restrictions. The government and press unions have taken initiatives to support journalists and their safety.
Some journalists, however, have been targeted during sports events, including a photojournalist for O Jogo newspaper who was physically and verbally assaulted by a football fan in February 2023 and a reporter from SIC Notícias was forced to cut short a live broadcast when faced with intimidation and threats from a football fan in April. The attacks were not politically motivated and the Portuguese Sindicato dos Jornalistas (Portuguese Union of Journalists) condemned the attacks and hostilities against journalists reporting on sporting events.
Concerns over racial injustice as HRD on trial
Mamadou Ba is a Portuguese activist working to combat racism and discrimination and is the founder of the S.O.S Racismo Portugal Movement and a founding member of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
On 27th October 2022, Mamadou Ba went on trial for a case of defamation and slander against neo-Nazi Mário Machado. In a tweet in 2020, Mamadou called Machado a “murderer”, referring to his involvement and conviction in the murder of Alcindo Monteiro, a Black Portuguese citizen in 1995. The Portuguese Public Prosecutor General pursued this complaint of defamation on the basis that “Mário Machado has already served his sentence and therefore cannot be blamed for this crime all his life”.
Mário Machado is the founder of several extreme-right groups, including the neo-Nazi group Hammerskins Portugal, Nova Ordem Social (New Social Order), and the Frente Nacional (National Front). In 1997, 11 people were convicted of murdering Alcindo Monteiro, whereas other individuals, including Machado, were convicted of aggression and sentenced to four years and three months in jail.
Mamadou faces accusations by the police, far-right groups, and individuals in court, some of the allegations claiming that he is a racist, which the ENAR has described as “typical reverse-racism tactic in which racism is projected on its victims”. S.O.S Racismo has shared concern that the constant attacks and current trial against Mamadou are “a clear signal for the black and anti-racist movement to be silent”.
The ENAR has stated that “threats and pressures push HRDs outside of the civic space and shuns them from participation in public debate, often leading to the removal of their legal status, prosecution, reduction or denial of funding”. This shows how restrictions on freedom of speech can lead to the shrinking of civic space.
Mamadou’s trial started 26th April but was postponed till 5th May due to strikes. If convicted, he risks a prison sentence or heavy fine. S.O.S Racismo organised protests in Lisbon to condemn the trial of Mamadou.
O ativista está a ser julgado por difamação após ter acusado Mário Machado de ser o “assassino“ do cabo-verdiano Alcindo Monteiro, morto em Lisboa, em junho de 1995, por elementos de um grupo de “skinheads“. https://t.co/7An9s4EmOS— SIC Notícias (@SICNoticias) April 26, 2023