A police officer is seen in Lisbon, Portugal, on October 30, 2020. Police surveilled and interrogated journalists in a leak investigation. (Reuters/Rafael Marchante)

Portuguese police surveilled, interrogated journalists in leak investigation

Berlin, January 19, 2021 — Portuguese authorities must thoroughly investigate alleged police surveillance of journalists, and ensure that members of the press are not targeted in government leak investigations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

From April to June 2018, as part of a bribery investigation into executives of a local soccer team, the Lisbon public prosecutor’s office ordered police to secretly surveil four reporters in an effort to uncover sources for their coverage of that case, according to a report published on January 13, 2021, by the weekly newsmagazine Visão.

Police targeted Silvia Caneco of Visão, Carlos Rodrigues Lima of the weekly newsmagazine Sábado, Henrique Machado of the daily newspaper Correio da Manhã and the broadcaster TVI, and Isabel Horta, then a reporter at the SIC TV network, according to that report.

Authorities compiled transcripts of the journalists’ text messages, physically followed Lima and Machado, and monitored Lima’s bank account, according to Visão. According to that report, the surveillance was ordered without prior approval of a judge, contrary to Portuguese law.

“Portuguese authorities must conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of the police surveillance of four journalists, and determine whether the operation was legal and whether the confidentiality of the journalists’ sources was violated,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Surveilling reporters without a court order has no place in a democracy, and Portugal must make sure that these basic rights of journalists are always guaranteed”

Also as part of the leak investigation, police interrogated Lima on November 30, 2020, and Machado on January 8, 2021, according to news reports and Lima, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. Lima said police asked he and Machado about their sources relating to the soccer investigation, and said they were suspected of illegally publishing confidential judicial information.

Authorities have not filed charges against any of the journalists, Lima said. If charged and convicted of breaching judicial secrets, the journalists could face up to two years in prison, according the Portuguese penal code.

CPJ emailed the Lisbon prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not receive any response. The office told local outlets that that “all due diligence was duly considered and carried out with respect for the legality” of the process.