Portugal | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



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Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso resigned as prime minister to become the new president of the European Commission in 2004. Lisbon mayor Pedro Santana Lopes replaced Barroso. The high-profile trial against seven people accused of forming a child sex ring in the Casa Pia children's home network began in November.

Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910, after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became prime minister in 1932 and ruled the country as a fascist dictatorship until 1968, when his lieutenant, Marcello Caetano, replaced him. During the "Marcello Spring," repression and censorship were relaxed somewhat and a liberal wing developed inside the one-party National Assembly. In 1974, a bloodless coup by the Armed Forces Movement, which opposed the ongoing colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, overthrew Caetano.

A transition to democracy began with the election of a Constitutional Assembly that adopted a democratic constitution in 1976. A civilian government was formally established in 1982 after a revision of the constitution brought the military under civilian rule, curbed the president's powers, and abolished the unelected Revolutionary Council. Portugal became a member of the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1986, and in early 2002, the euro replaced Portugal's currency, the escudo. In 1999, Portugal handed over its last overseas territory, Macao, to the Chinese, ending a long history of colonial rule.

In January 2001, the Socialist Party's Jorge Sampaio was reelected president to a second five-year term in office. Prime Minister Antonio Guterres resigned at the end of 2001 after his ruling Socialist Party (PS) suffered significant losses in municipal elections. The general election held on March 17, 2002, two years earlier than scheduled, produced a narrow victory for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Portugal's center-right party, ending six years of Socialist Party government. However, the PSD - whose leader, Manuel Barroso, was named the new prime minister - fell well short of an absolute majority, which forced it to form a governing alliance with the small Popular Party, a populist, right-of-center party.

In July 2004, Barroso stepped down as prime minister to become president of the European Commission, succeeding the Italian Romano Prodi. Santana Lopes, the mayor of Lisbon and the new head of the Social Democrats, replaced Barroso.

The country tightened security during the Euro 2004 soccer championships held in June. Such measures were aimed to prevent violence both by terrorists, like the attacks in Madrid only a few months before, and by groups of hooligan fans coming from other countries.

In November, a pedophilia trial began against seven people, including a TV presenter, a former top diplomat, and a former director of the Casa Pia children's home network. The case emerged from a series of allegations in 2003 of child abuse in the long-established state-run orphanages. The allegations went back 30 years and were considered the greatest upheaval in Portuguese society since the revolution of 1974. In June, a judge had thrown out the case against a key Socialist, Paulo Pedroso, who was previously charged with pedophilia offenses in the Casa Pia scandal.Barroso supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, even hosting the Azores summit that effectively marked the declaration of hostilities. The country still maintains 128 elite police officers in Iraq, who are providing security as part of a multinational force under British command.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Portugal can change their government democratically. The 230 members of the unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, are elected every four years by popular vote using a system of proportional representation. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term, renewable once. The president receives advice from the Council of State, which includes six senior civilian officers, former presidents elected under the 1976 constitution, five members chosen by the assembly, and five members selected by the president. While the president holds no executive powers, he can delay legislation with a veto and dissolve the assembly to call early elections. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow immigrants to vote in presidential elections.

The Portuguese have the right to organize in different political parties and other political groupings of their choice, except for fascist organizations. During the last elections in 2002, more than five parties won seats. The Social Democratic Party (PSD) took the lead with 40 percent of the vote, the PS was second with 38 percent, the Popular Party had around 9 percent, and the Communists got 7 percent. The autonomous regions of Azsores and Madeira are relatively independent, with their own political and administrative regimes, and their own legislation and executive powers.

Portugal was ranked 27 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws against insulting the government or the armed forces are rarely enforced. Commercial television has been making gains in recent years, providing serious competition for the public broadcasting channels that lack funds. Internet access is not restricted.

Although the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act, which was adopted in 2001, provides religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years (or recognized internationally for at least 60 years) with a number of benefits formerly reserved for the Catholic Church, such as tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, chaplain visits to prisons and hospitals, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.

There is freedom of assembly, and citizens can participate in demonstrations and open public discussion. National and international NGOs, including human rights groups, operated in the country without government interference. However, according to the 2004 US State Department report on human rights practices, many complained of slow investigations or remedial action by the state. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including political ones. For the second time in two years, public sector workers went on strike in January to protest a government austerity plan, which has involved a wage freeze for public sector workers. According to the BBC, the government defended the austerity plan as needed to achieve "public discipline."

The constitution provides for an independent court system. However, there is a considerable backlog of pending trials as a result of general inefficiency and a number of vacancies in the judicial system. A number of concerns were raised during the Casa Pia pedophilia scandal about the leaking of information about the case by the prosecution to the public.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the number of human rights abuses in the country, including unlawful police shootings, deaths in police custody, and poor prison conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. A Justice Ministry report released during the year cited a number of problems in the country's prison system, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and high rates of HIV/AIDS among prisoners. The prison population - as a percentage of the total population - is over the EU average. Citing problems of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, a 2004 report by the country's Justice Ministry argued that Portuguese prisons are the "worst" in the European Union (EU).

The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and nondiscrimination. The government has taken a number of steps in the past few years to combat racism, including passing antidiscrimination laws and launching initiatives that seek to promote the integration of immigrants and Roma (Gypsies) into Portuguese society. However, there have been few prosecutions in cases involving racial or religious discrimination or the use of excessive force by the police towards immigrants and Roma.

The country is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. In 2000, a law was introduced that makes domestic violence a public crime and obliges the police to follow through on reports. Abortion is illegal, unless under exceptional circumstances, such as when the mother's life is at risk. In August, the government refused a Dutch "abortion ship" to enter the country's territorial waters. The ship's crew allegedly intended to hand out pills that induce abortion to Portuguese women who wanted them once it returned to international waters and was under Dutch laws. Women hold about 19 percent of the 230 seats in the legislature.