Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 97 (0 = Least Free, 100 = Most Free)
Freedom Rating: 1.0 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Political Rights: 1 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Civil Liberties: 1 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 10,300,000
Capital: Lisbon
GDP/capita: $19,222
Press Freedom Status: Free


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.

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.

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