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European Court of Human Rights condemns Portuguese State

Published on 24/09/2019

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Portuguese state, ordering that compensation be given to Doctor Soares Gomes da Cruz (22,500 euros), and journalist Emídio Antunes (5,285 euros), after the state was convicted of violating freedom of expression.

In a ruling issued today, the court ordered the Portuguese state to reimburse Soares Gomes da Cruz and Emídio Antunes after the Portuguese courts convicted them for defaming politicians.

The European court came to the conclusion that the decisions made by the Portuguese courts were not correct, as regards the article on infringement of freedom of expression, so it was decided that the statements made by Soares Gomes da Cruz and Emídio Antunes were made in the context of debates on matters of public interest.

Emídio Antunes, from Santarém, wrote an opinion article in March 2011 in the newspaper O Mirante entitled “Only the chickens were left out”, a criticism of the political class, in particular Rui Barreiro, then Secretary of State for Agriculture, Forests, and Development. The journalist said that the politician was “the dumbest politician” he knew.

In July 2012, Antunes was convicted of defamation and was fined 2,500 euros. The court found that the opinions expressed in the article had gone beyond “objective criticism”.

Soares da Gomes Cruz, a doctor and partner at a clinic in Lourinhã, published an open letter in a regional newspaper in September 2009 criticizing the mayor, saying he was a “cowardly, characterless” person, who “lacked honesty “.

The doctor’s criticism was made after his clinic was not allowed to provide care to the population by the City Council.

Furthermore, the doctor distributed leaflets criticizing the mayor. The courts convicted him of two defamation crimes, and forced him to pay 22,500 euros for insulting an official entity.

Both defendants appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that their convictions violated Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention on freedom of expression.

The court found the condemnation of Emídio Antunes wrongful, justifying that Portugal is a democratic society that must guarantee and maintain freedom of the press.

In relation to Soares da Gomes Cruz, the court ruled that the conviction for insulting a legal entity is not even a crime that is not in the Portuguese official system. In addition to the fact that the amounts of damages and fines were considered exaggerated, the judgment claims that the national courts “exceeded their authority” in the discussion of matters of public interest and disregarded “the exercise of necessary balance in accordance with the criteria of the Convention”.