Reporters Without Borders has condemned as an "attempt at intimidation" the summonsing of 53 journalists by the Lisbon public prosecutor's office for "violating legal confidentiality rules" in the Casa Pia child sex abuse trial that opens on 25 November.
"It is the first time since the return to democracy in Portugal in 1974 that so many journalists have been summonsed," said the worldwide press freedom organisation. "On the eve of the opening of the Casa Pia trial this wave of summonses could be seen as both an attempt at intimidation and incitement to self-censorship".
The journalists, who have been or will be questioned, work for 11 leading Portuguese media including the daily Correio da Manhã, SIC Television and national radio Antenna 1. Several of them asked to be questioned as accused rather than witnesses, which gives them the right to remain silent about their sources throughout the investigation. If they are found guilty they risk a jail term of up to two years.
The trial of seven people accused of sexual abuse of children will be held behind closed doors. Some 100 witnesses are expected to give evidence. Political and media figures are among those charged.
The Casa Pia case centres on an institution for orphaned or deprived children. The story was broken in 2002 by the weekly Expresso, which revealed that a driver for Casa Pia had been procuring the children for paedophiles for 20 years.
The case, implicating important political personalities, has attracted unprecedented media coverage and fresh revelations, some accusing political leaders, crop up regularly in the press.