Lisbon has been sharing dissident information with repressive regimes for years – POLITICO

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Over the past decade, Lisbon City Hall has regularly shared the personal information of human rights defenders with a variety of repressive regimes, exposing them and their families to unimagined dangers.

The practice was exposed on Friday after a group of Russian dissidents announced earlier this week that city authorities had disclosed their personal information to the Russian embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow.

After the city administration initially dismissed the incident as a bureaucratic mishap, they admitted on Friday that it was actually part of the usual workflow of the city hall: Since 2011, city employees have been giving names, identification numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers of activists to countries, where protesters had targeted.

The authorities had the information based on a local ordinance that requires activists who want to hold protests to provide this personal data to the City Hall, which then forwards the information to the police, who are tasked with keeping the events in a safe place Environment.

But the discovery that such information has also been shared with repressive regimes – including Angola, Venezuela and China – stunned and dismayed Lisbon-based dissident groups who now fear that their leading members may be in the crosshairs of foreign governments.

And Portugal’s status as a haven for political exiles is being challenged, as is its reputation as a country that defends freedom of expression. The mayor of Lisbon is already facing calls for his resignation, and international civil rights activists in the country lament the stain they fear it will leave in the global perception of Portugal.

“I found out this morning and I am honestly shocked,” said Alexandra Correia, coordinator of Portugal’s Tibet Support Group, who told POLITICO that her personal information was released to the Chinese embassy in April 2019 after she applied for permission held a rally in favor of the 11th Panchen Lama, who has been detained by Chinese authorities since 1995.

“It’s especially bizarre because our protest took place in Largo de Camões, which is not near the Chinese embassy. So the town hall cannot even claim that they informed them for security reasons, ”Correia said.

The activist said the revelation frightened her and terrified her daughter, who is now concerned about what could happen to her family members in Tibet, where Chinese authorities are still practicing the death penalty.

“This situation cannot be written off as a bureaucratic mishap,” Correia said, adding that she would join other dissident groups to pressure City Hall to respond to its actions. “It is a serious violation of my privacy, my fundamental rights as a European, and it is unacceptable for this to happen in a democratic country within the European Union.”

In addition to Correia, representatives of the Committee for Solidarity with Palestine told the Portuguese media that they had also learned that their information had been passed on to the Israeli embassy. This group expressed concern about how Israeli intelligence agencies might be tracking their members, citing a Haaretz article reporting on the Mossad database of activists speaking out against the Israeli government.

“National Embarrassment”

The scandal surrounding the exchange of information in Lisbon put Mayor Fernando Medina in a sensitive political position just four months before the local elections.

On Thursday, the conservative opposition candidate Carlos Moedas – a former EU commissioner for research and science – asked Medina to resign about the incident. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa described the revelations as “deeply regrettable” and said that in a democratic nation everyone deserves respect for their fundamental rights.

Medina went to the national broadcaster RTP on Thursday evening to publicly apologize for a “bureaucratic error” that he believes was the result of the city following “outdated laws”. Despite accusing the opposition of using the scandal to gain “political clout”, the mayor admitted that internal town hall procedures needed to be changed to ensure that the situation never repeats itself.

Pedro Neto, executive director of Amnesty International’s Portuguese subsidiary, said that changing procedures was not enough and called for Lisbon to go further to protect those it had put in “great danger”.

“There were protests in Lisbon against the imprisonment of millions of Uyghurs in China, and the city hall gave the Chinese embassy the information not only to locate the organizers here in Portugal, but also to track their families in China,” said Neto. “It is incredible that our government took part in this repression.”

Neto said that the city of Lisbon now has a moral obligation to fully review all data shared with foreign powers and to inform all outed activists. “Of course, both our interior and foreign ministries must be involved so that those affected in Portugal can guarantee their protection and the well-being of their families abroad.”

The director of Amnesty International called the affair a “national embarrassment” and said it reinforced the impression that Portugal was just a “small country subordinate to the economic giants”.

“Just as Lisbon failed to defend human rights here, our national leaders failed to do so during their tenure as President of the European Union,” added Neto, referring to Portugal’s term as rotating President of the EU Council, which ends in July .

“We could have been standard-bearers for human rights and the fundamental values ​​of the EU, but instead we held back and now we are ending our presidency with this scandal at home.”



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