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Portugal: First blog ever to be blocked

Categories: Law, Portugal, Western Europe

June saw for the first time ever a blog suspended in Portugal because of a local court decision. The now defunct Póvoa Online [1] blog had been taken to court by Póvoa do Varzim [2]‘s council president, Macedo Vieira, and his deputy, Aires Pereira, who claimed the bloggers had been using the blog merely to defame them. The court concluded that most of the blog's content were opinionated articles, and that its authors criticized Macedo Vieira and Aires Pereira not only as the council's president and vice-president, but also as “citizens, fathers, family members and friends”.

Tongue in cheek Póvoa Online, which had been available since 2005, was very popular among locals because of its sharp sense of humour and funny caricatures of local politicians, some of which illustrate this piece. Last week, the administrators received the following message from Google explaining the reasons for the closure of the blog hosted with Blogspot:

“Hello,

We'd like to inform you that we've received a court order regarding your blog http://povoaonline.blogspot.com. In accordance with the terms of the court order, we've been forced to remove your blog. A copy of the court order we received is attached. Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,The Blogger Team

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No sooner was Povoa Online deleted than a new blog was created by the same group of irreverent bloggers who sign under the pseudonym Tony Vieira. Povoa Offline [4] made its first appearance publishing the full court decision and amassing nearly 150 comments so far. However, they are still not sure why, as citizens, they were forbidden from expressing themselves in a blog, as Tony explains [5] [pt]: “To my knowledge, nobody has been able so far to explain the legal aspects of the court decision to thousands of “bloggers” who are out there in Portugal, only to mention the Portuguese Lusosphere.”

Ludwig Krippahl [6] [pt] believes that the Portuguese judges don't understand the basic principle that blogs, as opposed to the established media and journalists, are open spaces that represent people's opinions and this should be therefore defended under the right of expression. He also points out that since 2000 the Portuguese courts have been given five convictions by the European Court of Human Rights for violations of this fundamental right:

Este caso caricato mostra que os autarcas não percebem bem como estas coisas funcionam. Além de chamar mais atenção para estas alegações, agora qualquer um pode ler na notificação do tribunal precisamente aquilo que eles queriam retirar do acesso público. Além disso, apesar de não se saber se as alegações são verdadeiras, a decisão do tribunal só mencione o ataque à reputação, honra e bom nome dos queixosos e não a sua inocência.

This grotesque case shows how our leaders do not understand well the way these things work. In addition to drawing even more attention to these allegations, now anyone can read the notification of the court, precisely the things they wanted to withdraw from public access. Moreover, besides not knowing whether the allegations are true, the court's decision only mentions the attack on the reputation, honor and good name of the complainants, not their innocence.

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Blogger JMSP [8] [pt] has decided to resort to auto-censorship, and thought it was better not to comment further about the reasons behind the decision:

Nem queria acreditar: o blogue mais lido da Póvoa e um dos mais lidos em Portugal [9], o povoaonline [1] foi eliminado! Resta a cache, aqui [10] e aqui [11] e suas sequelas que perdurarão no etérea www. Nem me atrevo a pronunciar-me sobre o caso, não me bloqueiem também a mim ou, pior, não me mandem para o Tarrafal. Mas, obviamente, disponibilizo-me para testemunha abonatória do velho Tony.

I can't believe it: the most read blog in Póvoa and one of the most read in Portugal [9], the povoaonline [1] was deleted! There is only the cache left, here [10] and here [11] and it sequels will last in the ethereal www. I wouldn't dare speak about the case myself, in order not to get blocked too, or worse still, not to be sent to Tarrafal*. But, of course, I offer myself as an accrediting witness to old Tony.

[*Translation note: Tarrafal, also known as “Camp of the Slow Death”, was a concentration camp in the former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde]

JCD [12] [pt] says that the blogger could not really be considered a loose cannon, but agrees that it is only fair that the courts deal with the type of accusations they used to make in cases where people felt victims of libelous accusations. However something does not feel quite right:

Mas… não é incomodativo este tipo de actuação judicial, semelhante à queima dos livros, esta opção pelo apagar da história das ofensas passadas? “Crime”, disse o juiz. “Que as palavras heréticas jamais sejam lidas…”

However… isn't this type of legal action, similar to the burning of books, this choice for erasing of past offenses from history annoying? “Crime,” said the judge. “Be the heretic words never read…”

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