It is a case that goes back 16 years and which is causing a wave of outrage on social media. Fifty-year-old Maria de Lurdes Lopes Rodrigues entered Tires jail (Cascais) nearly two weeks ago to serve a three-year sentence for defamation – handed out almost 16 years ago.
The ‘victims’ of her crimes are judges, policemen and prosecutors – many of them high-profile, and extremely well-connected.
As critics explain, it is “extremely rare, almost unheard of” for anyone to be prosecuted for “minor crimes such as offence and defamation”, but in this case perhaps, Maria de Lurdes’ ‘victims’ were simply too important to let the insults go.
Suffice it to say, she is now sharing a cell with two women convicted of murder.
She had dodged her conviction for years, managed to evade orders remanding her to ‘psychiatric accompaniment’ but finally, on September 29, ‘time ran out’.
“It seems that we are in a Third World country, but this is Portugal in the 21st century”, writes friend and ‘social activist’ Mário Gomes, who is behind the gathering appeal to free Rodrigues.
“This woman is not a criminal. She is an intellectual and an artist”.
Indeed, Gomes explains that in the two weeks since her incarceration, Rodrigues has “tried to adapt to prison life, the very rigorous timetables, the slamming of doors, the internal conflicts – very often violent – in which no-one in authority steps in to halt”, and she has made friends: a Moldovian woman imprisoned for falsifying immigration papers, and a Brazilian girl in jail for carrying drugs into Europe.
The trio asked to be transferred to a shared cell. “On the explicit orders of the prison governor, the Moldovian and Brazilian were transferred to a joint cell. Lurdes was transferred to another where her company are two women serving time for murder”.
“What more can I say?” He asks. “People say it isn’t possible to jail someone for words denouncing illegalities. I am sorry but it is. Please all of you leave your iPads, PCs, latest generation mobile phones and do something to get this human being out of prison!”
The facebook group now in operation is rapidly amassing members (click here).
The background to this story can be found in media archives. It centres on Rodrigues taking out a prosecution against former culture minister Manuel Maria Carrilho (currently involved in VIP divorce proceedings with a former game show hostess) in 1996.
Carrilho had ‘robbed her’ of the chance of a scholarship to continue her studies in cinematography, claimed Rodrigues.
Then in her late 30s, Lurdes won the case, which went to appeal.
As her friend Mário Gomes explains, she lost thereafter in court “with a judge whom she accused of corruption because, as (Rodrigues) believed, she (the judge) always put herself on the side of the minister”.
And so it went on. Diário de Notícias explained in 2013 that Rodrigues refused to give up, filing complaints about “various personalities, like the former Attorney General of the Republic Pinto Monteiro, the director of DCIAP Maria José Morgado and the director of the PJ Almeida Rodrigues, accusing them of “excusing crimes” practised by people she had accused of “stealing and plundering” her home and property”.
There came a point where she wrote that DIAP director Morgado “smiled like a psychopath and murderer” over Rodrigues’ case of eviction.
And then came the letters describing the Attorney General and other personalities as “criminal gangs”.
As DN said at the time, Maria de Lurdes Lopes Rodrigues has entered into the history of Portuguese justice “as being one of the few people condemned to prison for a minor crime like offence and defamation”.
It now remains to be seen if she stays there, or if this impetus to see her freed rings the changes.
The Free Maria de Lurdes facebook group is open to anyone, of any nationality.
Its next upcoming event is a meeting at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences on October 24, to debate: “Freedom, Censure and Democracy”.