Luís Menezes Leitão (archive image from RTP)

“Zero Liberty”: Law Society boss warns Portugal in danger of sleepwalking into China’s dictatorial shadow

Menezes Leitão speaks out against politicians’ zeal to change Portugal’s Constitution

President of the Ordem dos Advogados Luís Menezes Leitão has written a powerful column in tabloid Correio da Manhã today to warn of the dangers of letting politicians run away with the country’s Constitution.

Entitled “Zero Liberty”, his text explains as simply as possible how dangerous it is to allow political parties to tinker with a document drawn up to defend fundamental human rights.

Unless things can be turned around, he stresses that the new proposals presented by both PS Socialists and PSD social democrats will leave Portugal free to adopt the very same policies that China has adopted, in terms of Covid-19.

In practice, he says, China’s ‘Zero Covid’ stance is one that prohibits any kind of liberty.

“Right now demonstrations are taking place across China against the Zero Covid policy that the country continues to apply to tens of millions of people. 

“This policy allows the authorities to impose rigorous confinements, isolating people in their homes and/ or holding them in institutions.

“Shops are closed, except for those that sell food – and workers are obliged to sleep in factories to continue working through their confinement.

“It is manifest that these measures constitute serious human rights violations. 

“Unhappily, in the meantime, various projects have been presented in Portugal for constitutional revision that restrict the right to liberty, thus allowing similar measures (to take place here).

“This is what happens when people are allowed to be “separated” based on the mere suspicion of a contagious disease or when deprivation of liberty in this situation is left to ordinary law.

“Instead of compensating for the enormous violations of fundamental rights practised during the pandemic” proposed changes presented for voting in parliament are seeking to “constitutioinalise them, abdicating the essential core of the Constitution”, he says.

“Portugal will thus be free to also adopt Zero Covid policies, which in practice constitute zero freedom”, the Law Society president concludes.

That this has been written by the man at the helm of the Ordem de Advogados – the public association to which all attorneys-at-law belong in Portugal – may finally bring this subject properly to the fore.

Constitutionalist Jorge Miranda attempted very much to do the same over the weekend – highlight different aspects of proposed Constitutional reform, but suggesting the same effect smacking of ‘dictatorship’ – in Portugal’s case a return to dictatorship that was the springboard for drawing up the Constitution in 1976 as it remains today.

Jorge Miranda’s arguments, widely covered by the national press, sought to question why such fundamental issues are being introduced when people’s attention are on issues they may consider far more pressing (namely inflation/ and how to cope with the cost of living crisis).

Elsewhere, Lisbon lawyer Ricardo Graça – a man whose expertise numerous people sought during the pandemic, precisely to escape enforced confinements, and to ensure their children could go to school without wearing masks – has written a long article warning of what is afoot, only to find almost no media outlets prepared to give it space.

As he stresses, this sudden flurry of interest by political parties to ‘revise the Constitution’ was not something written about in their election manifestos.

We must not forget that the 1976 Constitution was undeniably an act of freedom and democratic affirmation. Now, a perverse autocratic exercise is being prepared by a dozen powerful people who want to stitch up the Constitution at the mercy of the powers of the system, without the slightest shadow of democratic mandate. They have already done so since the pandemic began, playing out completely on home soil. The Judicial System, with the exception of the Constitutional Court, just let it all go ahead for as long as they wanted”.

In Ricardo Graça’s opinion, the focus now on the so-called “sanitary emergency” and laws surrounding the use of metadata is expedient

The Constitution is a dangerous toy in the hands of dictatorial politicians and the perverse, hypocritical plans of globalists”, he writes – a tad stronger than the words of Luís Menezes Leitão perhaps, but definitely along the same lines.

So that brings it to three ‘learned’ warnings over MPs efforts to ‘change the Constitution’ for the good of the people, just in the last few days.

There is still ‘separation of powers’ in Portugal, in theory at least (albeit we have just had the controversy of a book in which a former Bank of Portugal governor describes moments where he felt the weight of political manipulation. He is now facing a lawsuit from the country’s prime minister).

According to Graça, if the current changes, as proposed by PS Socialists and PSD social democrats, manage to wriggle their way into the Constitution “democracy and even the rule of law in Portugal” will “purely and simply end”.

Graça insists: “We are talking about the demolition of the rule of law, a huge and crucial direct attack on judicial independence, the intrusion in the exclusive internal decision-making of the courts, and in particular of the Constitutional Court.

In Graça’s opinion, the changes as outlined constitute “a deep, dark muddy pit of judicial functioning in a country that wanted to be free and governed by law” with a Constitution devised for that purpose.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com