Europe

5 Portuguese police officers suspended for alleged torture of migrant workers

Video evidence suggests military police officers engaged in random harassment of migrants

Alyssa McMurtry   | 07.01.2022
5 Portuguese police officers suspended for alleged torture of migrant workers

OVIEDO, Spain

Five of the seven Portuguese military police officers accused of humiliating, kidnapping, and torturing migrant workers were temporarily suspended on Friday, according to Portuguese news agency Lusa.

The GNR (National Republican Guard) officers are charged with a total of 33 crimes against immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The allegedly routine abuse took place in the municipality of Odemira, which relies upon migrant workers from Asia to harvest crops.

Last spring, Odemira also came under the national spotlight for a major COVID-19 outbreak that highlighted the migrants’ poor living conditions, which Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called “a stark violation of human rights.”

To make matters worse, video evidence, filmed by the accused and broadcast by CNN Portugal and local broadcaster TVI, suggests a group of military police officers engaged in the random harassment of migrants.

One of the videos shows how police forced a victim to inhale pepper spray through a fake alcohol meter while they laughed and insulted him in 2019.

Another video shows police striking migrants' hands with rulers and making them do pushups while hitting them. Other images show police slapping one victim and leaving another bleeding.

When the story first broke in late December, Portugal’s military police force said it had previously denounced five officers in 2018 for aggressions against Indonesians. It also confirmed that three of the seven accused in the latest scandal were repeat offenders.

Both the Portuguese prime minister and the president have promised that justice will be served this time. However, organizations like SOS Racismo say this is not an isolated incident.

In a statement, the organization pointed to the case of Ihor Homeniuk, whom officers beat to death in the Lisbon airport, and named two other men who died suspiciously in a Lisbon prison.

“Security forces cannot be an instrument of the far-right and organized militias to attack immigrants. We cannot grant impunity for xenophobia, abuse, and police violence.”

According to CNN Portugal, authorities still have not been able to notify the other two accused military police officers.

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