Photo: twitter.com/FMedina_PCML

Lisbon Mayor faces huge criticism for sharing Russian activists’ personal data with Moscow

UPDATE: The Russian Embassy in Lisbon confirmed today that the personal data of the three Russian activists was “deleted” as “it was not relevant”, and that no such information was ever shared with the Russian authorities, wrote Expresso. Ambassador Mikhail Kamynin said: “If we were to keep this type of data, we would have a ‘library’ full of data. I repeat: we did not keep nor send the details to Moscow because they were of no interest. These are minor issues that pass.”

Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina (PS) is in the hot seat this week following the revelation that his administration shared the personal data of three Russian activists who carried out a protest in Lisbon in January with Russian authorities.

The case has been described as everything from “unacceptable” and “frightening” to “extremely serious” and “political terrorism”.

Medina, who has already publicly apologised for the incident, is being pressured by his political rivals to resign.

Even President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has described the situation as “regrettable” and said “it should never have happened.”

The Russian Embassy in Portugal has also weighed in, saying that the activists are of “no interest to the embassy in Lisbon or Moscow” and that they should not feel afraid to return to their home country.

Politico newspaper explains municipal authorities obtained the personal data when the dissidents applied to hold a rally to protest against the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in January. Says the paper, municipal authorities require protest organisers to submit their names, identification numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers so that Portugal’s PSP police can contact them if anything goes wrong during the event.

The only reason the activists found out that their data had been shared with Russian authorities ws because the email containing their personal information was accidentally forwarded by the council to one of them.

“We gave city hall all of our information because the protest was being held in the midst of the COVID crisis, and we wanted to be sure that we were complying with all of the sanitary rules that were in place,” protest organiser Ksenia Ashrafullina, a 36-year-old Russian-Portuguese dual citizen, told Politico.

“They accidentally forwarded me the email they had sent to the Russian authorities, which included a PDF file with our data transcribed,” she added.

Her demands for an explanation were ignored until she lodged a formal complaint, the activist said.

Ashrafullina also said she brought this matter to the attention of Portuguese press in January “but nobody wanted to report it”.

“I get that with the elections coming up, we’re part of a bigger political game now … If this helps to make Portugal a more democratic country, I guess that’s fine,” she said.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lisbon has already formally apologised, describing the sharing of the activists’ personal information as a “bureaucratic error” which won’t be repeated again and has already forced a change of the council’s internal procedures when dealing with these cases.

His apology has done little to temper the harsh criticism he has received. Carlos Moedas, who is running for Lisbon Mayor in the upcoming local elections with the support of rival party PSD, says Medina “has no choice but to resign”.

Other political leaders such as BE’s Catarina Martins and PSD’s Rui Rio are also demanding further explanations about this case.

“This is extremely serious,” said Rio. “In a democratic country, it is absolutely intolerable, and no EU government would do such a thing.”

He added that it is still too early to call for Medina’s resignation but does not rule out the possibility after “everything is clarified”.

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com