PORTUGAL: Police Confront Mother Over Participation in Women’s Day March in Faro

Article written for the Civic Space Watch by Agapi Antonaki, European Civic Forum, on 02/05/2024.

On 8 March 2024, at approximately 6 pm, police officers of the Public Security Police (PSP) confronted participants at an International Women’s Day march in downtown Faro, Portugal.

A mother with her baby was approached by an officer who wanted to confirm lthe route of the march and questioned her about joining the march with her child. After confirming her intention to participate with the child, she reportedly faced warnings about potential risks, including thrown objects and adverse weather conditions. The officer also expressed concerns about a counter-demonstration, suggesting the authorities couldn’t ensure participants’ safety.

Despite the officer’s warnings, the mother remained determined to participate in the march. The officer then stated in an intimidating tone that, if she went ahead with the march, he would record her personal information. He also threatened to report the situation to the Commission for the Protection of Children and Young People at Risk (CPCJ). A commissioner from the security force arrived at the scene and supported the officer’s stance.

The march proceeded with the participation of the targeted mother, who was not formally identified. Following the conclusion of the demonstration, the officer reportedly followed the woman to her car, indicating his intention to use a photo of her license plate to report the situation and identify her, according to the association Rede 8 de Março.

On 23 March, the same mother took part at another protest in the capital with her baby. The latter, accompanied by family members, held a sign that read, “No one forbids me to demonstrate with my mother,” emphasising her right to engage in peaceful protests alongside her child. “I grew up going to demonstrations on the 25th of April, the 8th of March and the 1st of May, which are celebrations of rights achieved. The PSP cannot question the right to protest as they did to me simply because I was bringing my son,” she highlighted.

Contacted by JN, an official source from the PSP’s Faro District Command confirmed that he noticed a few-month-old baby in a stroller at the scene before the start of the march. He mentioned that the PSP approached the mother due to concerns about the cold, wind, and rain, aiming to ensure the baby’s safety and right of physical integrity. Despite the mother disagreeing with their risk assessment, the PSP allowed her and the baby to participate in the march under monitoring for a possible intervention. He confirmed that the PSP reported the situation to the Commission for the CPCJ, citing potential risk to the child.

The Academia Cidada (Citizenship Academy), represented by Jonni Lopes and João Costa, criticises the action as a violation of the democratic right to freedom of expression, condemning the use of misogynistic tactics to suppress the fight for equality both nationally and in Europe.

The feminist association Rede 8 de Março Algarve has strongly condemned the PSP’s actions towards the targeted mother participating in a peaceful demonstration with her baby. They question the basis for the PSP’s attempt to identify and potentially criminalise the mother, highlighting inconsistencies in the PSP’s treatment of different groups, and raise concerns about the lack of legal justification for these actions. The association calls for transparency regarding the PSP’s motives and actions, wondering why certain arguments disappeared from the PSP’s version and how the mother was identified without being properly identified at the scene. Following the incident, Rede 8 de Março made a formal complaint.

The Portuguese Communist Party challenges the PSP’s justification for filing a complaint against the mother, highlighting the inconsistency in citing weather conditions as a risk to the baby, even though the child was adequately protected with blankets and a suitable raincoat. They express concern over the PSP’s decision-making process and question the criteria used by the PSP for assessing risks in such situations. The party deems the PSP’s actions unreasonable and calls on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide clarity on whether a complaint was actually filed, the specific grounds for it, and what corrective measures will be implemented to address this situation.