The Portuguese Prisoners

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Portuguese Prisoners is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Daily Chronicle on 16 may 1913.

The Portuguese Prisoners

Conflicted Witnesses

Sir, — In your issue of yesterday you quote Mr. Swinny upon the state of the Portuguese prisons, and you mention my name as one of those who should respond to his statement. One can only do so by quoting one British witness against another. Mr. Aubrey Bell (correspondent of the Morning Post), writing at the end of February of this year, says: "Except for the fact that the convicts in the Penitenciaria now no longer wear the hood, which by all the laws of civilisation should never have been inflicted upon political prisoners, the miserable condition of the Royalist prisoners remains unchanged. Moreover, those benefiting by the reforms do not include the hundreds of Royalists who are not confined in cells but crowded with every kind of criminal in the Limoeiro and other prisons... The remainder of the arrested Royalists are kept for six months, a year, two years without a trial..."

On March 13 of this year the conditions were still the same. An English correspondent, writing from Lisbon says:—

"The treatment of the political prisoners here is still scandalous. I know several men of the poorer classes who have been awaiting trial for over two years, and are now condemned to fifteen years' imprisonment, though there are no proofs against them. All the time they were in prison awaiting trial their families had to supply all their food, the prison authorities giving nothing."

Senhor Osorio, a Republican lawyer, points out on March 12 that, save for the abolition of the hood, the lot of the politicals is unchanged. There is a mass of evidence to the same effect from Portuguese newspapers and from private testimony. Therefore I think it is only reasonable to suppose that Mr. Swinny has been shown what the authorities desired him to see, and that he is quite unwittingly helping to bolster up a most cruel system.

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, May 15, 1913