Reporters Without Borders has protested after journalist José Luis Manso Preto was given an 11-month suspended sentence for refusing to reveal his sources when he was called to give evidence in a drugs case.
"We object to this sentence which seriously damages the right to protect sources of information" said Reporters Without Borders. It runs contrary to the Goodwin ruling adopted on 27 March 1996 by the European Court of Human Rights which recognises that protection of sources is the cornerstone of press freedom."
"This verdict means that the Portuguese courts turn journalists into informers and can also expose them to danger when they investigate sensitive cases. We hope it will be overturned on appeal so as not to create a dangerous precedent in Portugal," said the worldwide press freedom organisation.
Petro was sentenced by a Lisbon court on 10 December 2004. The suspended 11-month jail term can be activated if he is involved in any new case in the next three years.
Backed by the entire profession in Portugal, the journalist has decided to appeal against the verdict. "If I had revealed my sources, my professional career would have been in ruins," he told the press as he left court.
The case against him goes back two years when he was convicted of "contempt of court". At the time he was a stringer for the weekly Expresso, working on a drugs investigation. He used information given to him by a police official to reveal details about a police operation to catch drug-traffickers.
The lawyer for the three suspects called for Preto to be summonsed as a witness and to reveal the name of his informant. Citing protection of sources, Petro has always refused to name the police official.
Protection of sources is theoretically recognised in Portugal. But if a journalist has knowledge of a crime that will be committed he is then supposed to reveal his sources. Preto has always maintained that whether or not he revealed his source in this case was never going to prevent a crime from being committed.