Thousands of animal rights activists gathered in Lisbon this Saturday, January 21, to march in support of the Protection of Animals Act. The law, introduced in 2014, was put in jeopardy in early December when Portugal’s Public Prosecutor’s Office labeled the law as unconstitutional in a case involving the treatment of a pregnant dog.
Organized by the IRA (Animal Intervention and Rescue), a non-profit organization, and supported by the parliamentary PAN (People, Animals, and Nature) Party — which has previously declared that it has no official connection to the more controversial IRA — the march began in Marquês de Pombal on Saturday afternoon and concluded in Rossio after sunset.
Along the way, protestors and activists stopped in front of São Bento Palace, the seat of the Portuguese National Assembly, where the fate of the republic’s animal protection legislation will eventually be decided. Carrying posters and banners depicting obscene instances of animal abuse with text asking, “Is this not a crime?,” activists chanted slogans demanding the preservation of the laws in place and pushing for even more comprehensive legislation.
IRA officials estimated that just shy of 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s protest, with hundreds traveling from Porto by bus during the early hours of the day and arriving in Marquês de Pombal in time to march all afternoon.
The law currently in place, broadly favored in 2014, protects animals under Article 66 of the Constitution of Portugal, which guarantees a “humane, healthy, and ecologically balanced living environment,” and Article 387 of the Portuguese Penal Code. According to the Penal Code, inhumane treatment of a pet can be punishable by up to two years in prison and up to 240 days-worth fine, connected to the offender’s income.
These penalties were most famously put into effect in 2019, in the court ruling of veteran army nurse Hélder Passadinhas and his ill-fated dog, Pantufa. It was proven in court that in 2018, Passadinhas performed a “brutal and irregular” cesarean section on a pregnant Pantufa, removed three full-term puppies from her womb, and threw them in the trash can outside his apartment, where they died soon after.
Pantufa died from her wounds two days later.
Despite a district judge handing down a sentence of 16 months in prison, an appeals court suspended Passadinhas’s jail time, calling Article 387 unconstitutional; the conversation around animal rights’ place in the Portuguese constitution has continued to fester ever since.
Following the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s request for a review of Article 387 and Saturday’s demonstration, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa expressed his dedication to cementing animal rights in Portugal, calling the welfare of the republic’s pets a “widely shared value and an indisputable requirement,” according to Público.
The chances of Article 387 being repealed are undoubtedly low, but the forthcoming actions of the National Assembly and the constitutional court will decide the exact conditions of animal abuse penalties for years to come.