President of Chega, André Ventura, is set to appeal the latest court ruling that says he must indeed apologise to a family he branded publicly as ‘bandits’.
This is a story that has been grinding on for months now (click here).
To have reached this point less than two weeks before the country goes to the polls for municipal elections – in which his party is fielding scores of candidates – might not help Mr Ventura – himself standing for a position on the Municipal Assembly of Moura… Is it really that hard to apologise, after two courts now have found that he did indeed commit offences against Portugal’s Law of Honour?
It could be that Mr Ventura means to fight the relevance of the Law of Honour in the 21st century. But, whatever his intentions, the insulted Coxi family want a public apology: they feel it is the least they deserve.
Mr Ventura doesn’t even have to say the words out loud. The Lisbon Court of Appeal has said that a written apology will suffice.
Quizzed for a reaction last night after the ruling had been published, Mr Ventura said he was flabbergasted.
“It is a decision that undermines the freedom of expression of politicians and (political) parties”, he said, adding that it shows there is a court “policing language and holding us to political correctness”.
The party leader said he has been “extremely hurt and disillusioned” – which cannot be so very different from the emotions felt by the Coxi family when they saw themselves described as ‘bandits’ on national television.
For readers that may not have seen the incident, Mr Ventura was facing (victorious) President Marcelo as a candidate for the presidency; he exhibited a photograph of Marcelo posing with the Coxi family in the infamous ‘Bairro da Jamaica’ (a housing estate in desperate need of urban renewal), accusing the president of ‘teaming up with bandits’.
Two courts have interpreted his use of words (and the Coxi family’s ‘image’) as “totally disproportionate” – a form of whipping up social segregation, said the court of appeal. Freedom of expression has limits, and Chega overstepped them, in other words.
The Coxi’s lawyer has said his clients are pleased with this latest judgement. But whether things stop here seems debatable. Mr Ventura has said today that he will “with all probability” be appealing to the Constitutional Court – on the basis that the latest decision brought in the issue of ‘segregation and racism’: something the first court did not mention.
By coincidence, Mr Ventura visited Bairro da Jamaica only last week – as pre-election efforts by all parties started gathering steam.
He pronounced the neighbourhood “a disgrace” and said it should either be demolished, or cleaned up” – and if the latter, “it should not be with taxpayers’ money…”
“Bairro da Jamaica is a disgrace at the gates of Lisbon. It would shame any European capital. And with it a process of ghettoisation exists. It’s a disgrace for Seixal, it’s a disgrace for Setúbal – and it’s a disgrace on the doorstep of Lisbon”, he said, flanked by a heavy police presence.
As to why he visited a place where he is unlikely to have any supporters, Mr Ventura told reporters: “I am not looking (for trouble). I am just going to different places. I am here today just as I will be in Cascais tomorrow. A politician doesn’t only go to places where he feels comfortable, where people like him. If I went where people liked me, I would only go to areas where I had more than 30% of the votes…”