Portugal: Report on torture suffered by Leonor Cipriano

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SOS Prisões and ACED produced a report that they sent to high-ranking Portuguese authorities with competencies in this field concerning the allegations of torture suffered in September 2004 by Leonor Cipriano at the hands of the judicial police in their offices in Faro. She is currently serving a 16-year and eight-month prison sentence in Odemira women's prison, after she was found guilty of killing her eight-year-old daughter Joana, who she reported as having disappeared. Cipriano maintains her innocence and told the author of the report, lawyer Marcos Aragão Correia, who visited her in prison on 8 April 2008, that there was no evidence to prove the allegations, before describing how she was mistreated for two days in order to induce her to sign a confession of this horrendous crime, which she eventually did. Correia also met the director of Odemira prison, Ana Maria Calado, who confirmed suspicions about Cipriano's treatment, noting that she was "shocked about the conditions in which Cipriano entered the prison". ACED argues that it does not have the means to confirm what the situation in terms of the practice of torture by the police in Portugal may be, but calls on the state to comply with its international obligations.

Leonor Cipriano's account

After accepting to meet Correia, Cipriano denied having played any part in the death of her daughter Joana, who disappeared on the evening of 12 September 2004 after she went out to buy some groceries for her mother in a nearby shop in Figueira, near Portimão, as she often did. Upon seeing that her daughter was taking longer than expected, she went to the shop and was told that Joana had been there, but had already left with a few groceries, after which the Guarda Nacional Republicana was called. On 25 September, Leonor Cipriano was placed in preventive detention in Odemira prison, and was taken by judicial police officers to their offices in Faro on the next day. She was upset by the allegations made against her (that she had killed Joana, cut her up and fed her remains to pigs), which she rejected. Meanwhile, and in the absence of any evidence, the five officers involved became aggressive, shouted and unsuccessfully tried to convince her to confess, after which the torture began. Two glass ashtrays were placed on the floor, and Leonor was forced to kneel on them, without being allowed to get up until she confessed. She showed Correia the scars on her knees, still visible four years later. She was then sat on a chair with a green plastic shopping bag over her head, and officers started striking her on the head with a cardboard tube, causing her haemorrhages resulting in blood descending to her eyes, and her hands were struck when she tried to take the bag off her head. She was told that she would not get out of there until she confessed, and was made to stand, sometimes with the bag on her head and sometimes without it, and punched and kicked on the side of her ribs, repeatedly.

The torture lasted for two days, after which she signed a confession, and she was then returned to prison, where her serious conditions led to her being taken to Odemira health centre. She was told by judicial police officers to tell the doctor that she had thrown herself down a flight of stairs in the Faro judicial police headquarters in a suicide attempt, threatening that if she spoke of any aggression, she would be interrogated again and would not survive. Cipriano said she did as they demanded in their presence, but told the prison officers and director of the prison what had happened once they left. The director ordered photographs to be taken of her, and for a legal-medical report to be drawn up as a result of her poor conditions. Leonor Cipriano's brother João was also reportedly tortured and found guilty of the murder, although the prison to which he was taken did not run the same checks to determine whether he had been subjected to an aggression. After they were both found guilty, he wrote to his sister to apologise for the lies he had been forced to tell about her. When Leonor was invited to identify her aggressors by an investigating magistrate in Évora in 2006, she was only able to identify one official who was present and did nothing to prevent the abuses, possibly because she had had a bag over her head for long periods, or due to the time that had passed, or because not all her torturers were among the six officers placed before her.

The prison director

Correia then spoke to Odemira prison director Ana Maria Calado, who confirmed Leonor Cipriano's account, noting how shocked she was about her conditions, with black marks, haematomae and bruising in her face, mainly around her eyes, her head and ribs, mainly on her sides. She assured that the physical marks clearly indicated a violent aggression and not a fall down some stairs, something the legal-medical report also confirmed. She noted that Cipriano's conditions worsened a week after she was tortured, as the blood that had gathered at the height of her brows was so much that it ended up falling over her eyes, leaving her practically blind for almost a month, and the director regrets not having ordered photographs of this period to be taken. She also said that relations between Cipriano and the prison guards and other prisoners were good, and that she did not believe that she had attempted suicide.

Calado expressed her surprise for a number of facts: a) that the judicial police did not take Cipriano to a health centre in Faro to certify that she had fallen down some stairs; b) that the day of her interrogation was chosen during Calado's week of holidays, when she would never have allowed her to be picked up at 6 a.m. without a formal request by the judicial police; and c) that judicial police officers who arrived from Lisbon to investigate the allegations of torture proposed sharing the blame between the judicial police and prison, something she refused. Correia praised the director, describing her as "courageous" and as prizing "values" more highly than "corporate interests".


The report concludes that the testimony of Leonor Cipriano and of the prison director, as well as other available evidence, are convincing in terms of proving that a crime of torture was committed by officers of the Portuguese judicial police. It condemns the use of "medieval methods" to "extract confessions at all cost, even if they are false", as "inadmissible" and as harmful for Portugal's image as an EU member that defends human rights and has a modern legal order and, as such, argues that these practices must be punished in "exemplary" fashion, or the Portuguese citizenry will lose faith in the judicial system.

The report ends with a message from Leonor Cipriano, who was treated as a monster as a result of the horrible nature of the crime she was accused and found guilty of committing:

"I hope that my daughter Joana appears, not only to be with her again, but also to show the world that it was the gentlemen officers of the judicial police who tortured me and who are the real monsters".

Relatório sobre Tortura de Leonor Cipriano, 8.4.2008, ACED - Associação Contra a Exclusão pelo Desenvolvimento, SOS Prisoes - report (pdf)

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