A TOTAL of 70 people died in Portuguese jails last year, according to this year’s Amnesty International report. Two thirds of the deaths occurred among prisoners held in preventative custody.
The organisation describes the report as “alarming” and says statistics place Portugal on a ‘blacklist’ of countries guilty of human rights violations, citing mistreatment of prisoners and police violence as the main factors.
Amnesty’s main concern lies with disproportionate police force, a longstanding grievance. “There have been goodwill gestures from the Portuguese authorities, but, in reality, nothing has been done. Complaints continue to pour in every year,” said Cláudia Pedra, director of the Portuguese branch of Amnesty International.
The organisation says that “something is very wrong” in Portuguese prisons and demands proper safeguards to monitor and protect vulnerable prisoners at risk from self-harm. Amnesty’s report noted “alleged suicides” by prisoners, mainly in prisons in Lisbon, Sintra and Coimbra. It also notes that, in January this year, there were three suicides in Vale de Judeus prison alone.
“Inhuman and degrading treatment”
The Director General of Prison Services says efforts have been made to improve conditions in jails. But Amnesty’s extensive findings, which include criticism of basic prison amenities, point to insufficient progress. “Conditions of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment continue in various prisons, stemming mainly from overcrowding and unacceptably poor sanitary installations. Healthcare continues to be inadequate in spite of the high rates of HIV infection and other illnesses,” the report notes.
Amnesty also highlights other omissions, including a lack of legal representation for newly accused prisoners and a failure to separate them from convicted inmates. António Pedro Dores, from the Association Against Exclusion and for Development, said “prison reform has been promised for years but nothing has been done”.
The organisation notes the lack of an independent monitoring agency, with the power to investigate police violations, and highlights excessive use of firearms by police. The “arbitrary use of force, including lethal force, the needless resort to rubber bullets and inadequate norms of police training” are all mentioned for special criticism.
In its global report, Amnesty International says that police in 103 countries are guilty of disproportionate use of force and 27 of these countries, including Portugal, are in Europe.