PORTUGAL: Protest staged against institutional racism; political crisis sparks concern for CSO funding

European Civic Forum update to CIVICUS Monitor, published on 07/01/2022


Political crisis stalls CSOs’ activities and funding until 2022

Following parliament’s rejection of the 2022 state budget proposed by Prime Minister António Costa, at the beginning of November 2021, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa dissolved the national assembly and called snap general elections on 30th January 2022. This move brought an end to the minority ruling Socialist alliance which has been in power since 2015.

“This is one of the major problems civil society is facing right now. All the parliamentary commissions that hear civil society on several subjects stopped working, as well as a lot of processes that involved CSOs lobby and advocacy, like the legislative ones. Probably, they will have to start all over again when the new government will be formed after the general elections,” – João Labrincha, Board Secretary of Academia Cidadã.

Additionally, the budgetary approval problem is leaving CSOs in a stalemate, as Labrincha pointed out:

“Lots of CSOs were expecting to receive funds in January 2022, but now they’ll have to wait at least until March or April. Many programmes – namely the ones funded by the EU via the Portuguese agencies – will stop. Meanwhile, CSOs have to pay for salaries and running projects. In this way, the services and help they provide to society risk stopping.”

This was a particularly critical time for CSO funding, since Portugal was supposed to start deploying 45 billion euros in aid from the European Union to support the economy after the COVID-19 crisis. Given the procedural requirements, a new state budget proposal may not come before parliament until April 2022.

These developments could put the brakes on CSOs’ applications to use this funding for their activities: “Some of the funds have a deadline to be used; most of them are due in 2023, so the running for applications were supposed to be open until the end of this year, in order to start to deploy the money in January 2022. If applications start running only in the middle of next year, it means that half a year is wasted for civil society”, said Labrincha. Even the 2030 Partnership Agreement with the EU for receiving structural funds (23 billion euros) will be delayed until 30th January 2022 because of the political crisis.

Peaceful Assembly

Climate activists occupy oil refinery in Sines to ask for decarbonisation

On 18th November 2021, a protest at the Galp oil refinery in Sines was called by the Climáximo collective to demand the “planned and gradual closure” of the unit by 2025.

According to the group of climate activists, this was a “non-violent act of civil disobedience and blockade” at that refinery. The initiative, which aimed to bring activists across Portugal to Sines, called for the elaboration of “a just transition plan based on social dialogue that favours workers and affected communities”, as underlined in a statement sent by the collective.

The activists, in fact, also asked for “an immediate guarantee of public employment or retirement, without loss of income, for all direct or indirect workers in the refinery.

During the action, the protesters occupied the Galp oil refinery for around 20 minutes. Police officers were present, but they did not intervene to stop the activists, except in one case.

“The interesting thing is that a lot of people were invading the refinery, but the police let these protesters be, and went for only one activist that didn’t go inside. He was staying at the door, still in public space, but the police decided to stop and identify him”, reported João Labrincha, Board Secretary of Academia Cidadã.

“We know this happened for reasons that had nothing to do with the occupation of the refinery: first, this activist is black; second, he’s very active and well-known in lots of movements, not only in the environmental one. Probably, the police wanted to set an example by targeting him.”

Mass protest against racism in prisons

On 6th November 2021, black, anti-racist, immigrant and human rights organisations marched in the streets of Lisbon’s city centre to protest against institutional racism in Portuguese prisons. They demanded justice for Danijoy Pontes, who died in the Lisbon Prison Establishment (EPL) on 15th September 2021 which is why the EPL was chosen as the concentration point for the demonstration. Protesters chanted: “Justice for Danijoy” and “Justice is Racist”.

The true circumstances and causes of the death of Pontes, a 23-year-old man of Sao Tome origin, are not yet known. Faced with the prolonged silence of the competent authorities, Pontes’ family called for the Portuguese Public Ministry to reopen investigations, with Pontes’ mother alleging that her son was murdered in prison.

Mamadou Ba, leader of SOS Racism called out the impunity and silence of institutions and questioned whether the prison authorities had asked the family about the young man’s medical history, and whether they had informed the family about the type of medication he was being given.

“How can they explain the discrepancies that exist between the report that was made by the Institute of Forensic Medicine and the autopsy report that now discovered substances that were not mentioned in the first report?”, asked Ba in his intervention at the start of the demonstration.

On 23rd November 2021, the Attorney General announced that the investigation into the death of Danijoy Pontes had been reopened.


Discriminatory propaganda spread by far-right party rising in the electoral polls

Since the political crisis started, the far-right nationalist party Chega! (literally, “Enough!”), founded only three years ago, saw a speedy rise in the electoral polls. It currently has only one MP, but polls indicated it could capture as many as 20 seats in the general elections at the end of January. The polls show it has become the third political force in the country, with 10% of voting intentions.

The pre-electoral campaign has started, so Chega! is already spreading around its word on xenophobia and racism”, claimed João Labrincha, Board Secretary of Academia Cidadã. “All working groups against racism are dissolved now”, because of the political crisis in Portugal.

During the Summer, there were some cases of harassment enacted by Chega! militants, like in Viseu, where a Chega! city council candidate and leader targeted a shopkeeper with homophobic verbal attacks.