Portugal
Lawsuits by prison officers' union against human rights defenders -
Complaint against Dores for his human rights work withdrawn

In a press statement dated 8 December 2008, SOS Prisões and ACED announced that the lawsuit filed against Antonio Pedro Dores of the association ACED (Associação Contra a Exclusão pelo Desenvolvimento) by the SNCGP (Sindicato Nacional do Corpo da Guarda Prisional, national trade union of the body of prison guards) in relation to his work monitoring abuses against inmates in prisons, whereby he was accused of "offending a collective person, body or service" (see Statewatch News Online, April 2008), has been withdrawn.

Dores questions whether it is reasonable for a criminal trial to end like this, six years on, during which the accused was not allowed to leave the country for more than five days at a time, and claims that he will ask for indemnity payments from the SNCGP and the State. Denying that this is a "happy ending", Dores argues that the end of charges against resulted from a combination of factors including a defendant who did not get scared, a lawyer who knows about Law, and a judicial magistrate who was ready to respect the rights of the defence, accepting the material submitted by all parties. While praising the magistrate, Dores notes that these conditions do not always concur. He insists that the problem that needs resolving is the "need for principles to be respected", adding that an action for indemnity payments against the State and prison guards' trade union is necessary, "because there are things that cannot happen".

Another case to be heard in trial

Moreover, there is continued concern over a second lawsuit filed by the same prison guards' trade union, the Associação dos Directores Prisionais (ADP, Association of Prison Directors) and Coimbra prison against Antonio Manuel de Alte Pinho, a journalist and member of ACED, and Rafael dos Santos, the father of an inmate who died in suspicious circumstances, in relation to statements they issued a fortnight after the death of Marco Filipe Marques Santos on 22 August 2002 in Coimbra prison and, in the case De Alte Pinho, statements also made on 26 December 2001.

The allegations deemed to involve defamation and offences against a collective body aimed at the prison service through the media, led to charges against De Alte Pinho and Dos Santos, who defended themselves by noting that the claims were made in good faith and on the basis of information they possessed. Lisbon court for committal proceedings ruled on 15 January 2008 that the case of Dos Santos, against whom charges of "aggravated and continued defamation" were sought, will not lead to him being tried. His defence noted how seeing his son's body after his death was classified as a suicide, covered in bruises that shed doubt on his death being a result of suicide, and pointing towards a beating, added to the information he received from prisoners who called from the prison to tell him his son was killed, mean that the allegations he voiced were made in good faith and sought to make the truth emerge about the death, which in his view was that it was a murder.

The case of De Alte Pinho has been scheduled to be heard in court on 7 January 2009 because, although charges against him including "aggravated defamation" for statements following Dos Santos' death were dismissed, his allegation that the prison's director used pieces from the prison museum's collection to show off the results of a prison search for weapons, voiced on the SIC television channel during the previous December, is liable to be deemed an offence targeting a collective body. The charge sheet argues that De Alte Pinho acted "in representation of ACED, voluntarily and consciously, by, without having a basis to consider them truthful in good faith, stating untrue facts, capable of offending the credibility, prestige and trust that are due to the DGSP and Coimbra prison, as they effectively did, through means that enabled the divulgation of the offensive claims", and that there is no evidence in the trial to suggest that De Alte Pinho's claims were true.

Under interrogation, De Alte Pinho confirmed his statements, noting that they sought to make public what he knew about what happens in Portuguese prisons, including his allegations about criminal behaviour by a minority of officers acting in association, without seeking to claim that officers in Coimbra prison in general belong to a criminal association. His defence added that ACED is an organisation that defends human rights and can and must report the situations of which it is aware, that the allegations were made in good faith, based on concrete facts and in the framework of the defence of human rights. The lawfulness of lawsuits brought by the SNGP and ADP were also criticised by the defence, as neither association was mentioned in the claims in question.

SOS Prisoes/ACED press statement, Lisbon 8.12.2008

Decision of Lisbon Court for Committal Proceedings, 15.1.08

Previous Statewatch coverage: Portugal: Head of observatory on prisons charged with "offending" prison guard service April 2008


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