Freedom in the World 2017 - Portugal

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Portugal is a stable parliamentary democracy with a multiparty political system and regular transfers of power between the two largest parties. Civil liberties are generally well protected. Ongoing concerns include corruption, certain legal constraints on journalism, and poor or abusive conditions for prisoners. However, prosecutors have pursued corruption cases against top officials, and the courts often rule in favor of journalists’ rights.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a center-right candidate supported by the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its allies, won the presidential election in January.
  • Among other high-profile corruption cases, prosecutors continued their long-running investigation of former prime minister José Sócrates, who had been arrested in 2014 for suspected tax fraud and money laundering.
  • Journalists ran afoul of judicial secrecy laws in their coverage of ongoing corruption cases. Prosecutors requested a trial against 13 journalists in connection with the Sócrates probe in June, and filed charges in September against 11 journalists who reported on a separate case involving abuses in a residency program for foreign investors. 
Executive Summary: 

In the January 2016 presidential election, former PSD politician Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won with 52 percent of the vote, easily defeating a leftist candidate backed by the ruling Socialist Party (PS), António Sampaio da Nóvoa, who took less than 23 percent. Prime Minister António Costa of the PS holds most executive power in Portugal’s parliamentary system, but the president can force reviews of legislation and call early elections.

Several new cases of corruption arose during 2016, and some investigations from previous years—including one targeting former prime minister José Sócrates—were ongoing. In February, prosecutor Orlando Figueira was arrested for allegedly taking bribes to drop a probe into malfeasance by the current vice president of Angola. In May, a judge ruled that 17 people implicated in the so-called golden visa scandal, including a former interior minister, would have to stand trial. The case involved corruption related to a program allowing foreign investors to obtain visas and eventually apply for residency and citizenship.

Prosecutors targeted journalists in two separate cases during the year, accusing them of violating judicial secrecy by reporting on ongoing corruption investigations. In June, the Lisbon public prosecutor requested a trial against 13 journalists from three media outlets for their coverage of the Sócrates investigation. The evidence was being reviewed by a magistrate at year’s end. Similarly in September, prosecutors in the capital charged 11 journalists for their coverage of the golden visa case, arguing that they had published privileged information.

Journalists also risk civil and criminal defamation charges. In one high-profile case, former police inspector Gonçalo Amaral was ordered in 2015 to pay over €500,000 ($560,000) in damages to the parents of Madeleine McCann, who went missing from a Portuguese resort town in 2007, due to claims in his book that McCann’s parents were involved in her disappearance. However, the decision was overturned on appeal in April 2016. Separately in November, a former intelligence chief, Jorge Silva Carvalho, received a suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay compensation for illegally accessing the telephone records of journalist Nuno Simas in 2011 in an attempt to identify a source.

Political Rights

Political Rights 39 / 40

A. Electoral Process 12 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 16 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 11 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 58 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 16 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 12 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 15 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 15 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Portugal, see Freedom in the World 2016.