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Are Portugal’s Police Too Violent?

The U.S. State Department has highlighted a large volume of complaints regarding the excessive use of force by Portugal’s police force in its 2022 annual police report released today.

“While the Constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, degrading acts or inhumane treatment or punishment, there have been credible reports of excessive use of force by police and of ill-treatment and other forms of abuse of prisoners by prison guards,” reads the document.

At the base of this analysis are the 2021 data of the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration (IGAI), which reported the existence of 1,174 complaints of mistreatment and abuse by the police and prison guards, stressing that this is “the highest number since 2012” and include 565 instances against the Public Security Police (PSP) and 353 cases against the National Republican Guard (GNR).

Following these complaints, the report states that 41 disciplinary investigations have been initiated into members of the security forces, with punishments ranging from reprimands, provisional suspensions, compulsory retirement with pension cuts, dismissals, or judicial penalties.

Regarding prisons and conditions of incarceration, the document also highlighted the existence of reports “that raised human rights concerns” and also considered that the excess of pretrial detention time for defendants awaiting trial “continued to be a problem,” although without exceeding the legal limits laid down.

“The detention was generally attributed to lengthy investigations and legal proceedings, judicial inefficiency or lack of personnel,” the document states.

In criminal terms, the State Department pointed to the echo of suspicions of corruption and illegalities in public procurement with the central and local authorities in the media, even citing a recent case that led to searches at the headquarters of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The report also noted that gender-based violence – including domestic violence – “remained a problem”, noting that there had been 20 deaths associated with domestic violence in the first nine months of the year, according to data from non-governmental organisations and the media.

The investigation of the phenomenon of sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church also did not go beyond the document, which highlighted the hundreds of testimonies collected by the Independent Commission and the opening of investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in addition to cover-up attempts by members of the Catholic hierarchy.

The State Department report also reviewed the protection of refugees and victims of trafficking. It noted that experts have expressed “concern about the government’s efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims” in Portugal. Sub-Saharan trafficking networks have increasingly used the country as a route to the Schengen area to exploit children in sex trafficking and forced labour.”

Samantha Gannon

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