There were new reports of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and prison guards. Judicial inquiries continued into allegations of ill-treatment and deaths in police custody from previous years. Law enforcement officers accused of ill-treatment were tried, in some cases after delays of many years.

    In January President Jorge Sampaio described the situation in Portuguese prisons as a “real national scandal”, referring among other things to serious overcrowding and lengthy pre-trial detention. In January the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (cpt) published a report critical of ill-treatment and insanitary conditions in Oporto prison, which it last visited in 1996. The cpt report referred to a large number of allegations of physical ill-treatment of inmates by custodial staff, such as blows with batons, punches and kicks, and night-time beatings. The cpt also expressed concern at inter-prisoner intimidation and violence, and at the devolution of many tasks to a small number of privileged prisoners known as “faxinas” _ a practice that could reinforce exploitation of fellow inmates. In its published reply, the government stated that abuse of prisoners by prison staff was a “permanent concern” and referred to measures being taken to reduce overcrowding and inter-prisoner intimidation.

    There were new allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officers. Seventeen-year-old Rui Pedro and his elder brother, José Pedro Batista dos Santos Mecha, alleged that in February they were severely beaten by Public Security Police (psp) officers in Moita. Both said that they were repeatedly kicked and beaten on the head, back and all over the body with batons, and dragged along the ground by the hair to a patrol car. José Mecha said that the beatings continued after he was handcuffed. Both were taken to the psp station at Moita, then to hospital. Rui Mecha said he suffered severe head pains, dizziness, vomiting and bleeding from the ears. José Mecha described injuries to the left leg and back, and temporary partial facial paralysis. Both remained in hospital for four days. They lodged judicial complaints against the police officers in July.

    In September the Ombudsman for Justice and the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration (igai) both opened inquiries into the conduct of an officer of the National Republican Guard (gnr) during a farmers' demonstration near Ourique, Alentejo. Portuguese television transmitted pictures of people already under arrest being beaten while they appeared to be offering no resistance. The Ombudsman reportedly expressed concern that on two occasions an officer had used “unnecessary and disproportionate force”. igai, which concluded that police action at Ourique was, in general, correct, found that one officer had made “inappropriate and non-proportional” use of his baton on two demonstrators and initiated disciplinary proceedings against him.

    Allegations of serious ill-treatment by custodial staff, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions, were widespread. Augusto da Conceição Mata, imprisoned at Vale de Judeus, Alcoentre, stated that in January he was beaten unconscious by several prison guards and did not receive prompt medical assistance. He lodged a judicial complaint with the Cartaxo court and with the Ombudsman for Justice. Alberico A. Lopes Correia alleged that he was beaten and trampled, and had his nose fractured, by prison staff at the same prison in January. He was made to take a cold bath and racially insulted. He lost consciousness and was left to lie, bleeding from the nose, on a concrete floor. He reported that he did not receive prompt medical assistance and that although a subsequent medical report confirmed the fracture of the nose, he had still not received the required surgery three months later.

    In July Dionísio Alberto Oriola, imprisoned at Coimbra prison, was found hanging in a punishment cell after allegedly attacking a guard. Prison sources reported he had been “violently beaten by prison guards hours before committing suicide”. He had staged a rooftop protest at Sintra prison earlier in the year, apparently about prison conditions. Administrative inquiries were opened into the circumstances surrounding his death.

    In July Fernando Azevedo, reportedly known to the police as a petty criminal, was shot dead in Oporto in the course of a routine operation of the psp's Transit Division. After he was stopped by police on suspicion of car theft, Fernando Azevedo attempted to escape arrest by driving away while an officer was still holding on to the door. He then tried to shake the officer off by bumping into other cars. A second officer apparently fired first at the tyres, then through one of the car's windows. Fernando Azevedo was hit in the back. It was not clear whether the officer had fired in “legitimate defence”. An inquiry was opened.

    A number of inquiries relating to alleged ill-treatment and deaths in custody in previous years remained open or were concluded, in some cases after many years. In January, almost six years after the assault on Francisco Carretas and another man in Charneca da Caparica, the appeal of five gnr officers against conviction for unnecessary violence was rejected by the Constitutional Court; they were committed to the military prison of Santarém. Their sentences, ranging from 12 to 14 months' imprisonment, had been reduced by the Supreme Military Tribunal in 1995. Persistent delays had dogged the judicial proceedings  (see Amnesty International Reports 1994 and 1995).

    In January the prosecutor closed an inquiry that had been reopened in November 1997 into the death of Vítor Manuel Santos, without being able to clarify the exact circumstances surrounding his death (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

    In March the Interior Minister ordered the resignation from the psp of an officer who, in 1994, shot dead Romão Monteiro, a Rom, while he was handcuffed and under interrogation at Matonsinhos police station. A three-year suspended prison sentence passed on the officer for manslaughter had been reduced by two months in 1996 by the Supreme Court which had also ordered the reopening of an internal disciplinary inquiry. The officer remained on active but unarmed duty at an airport. He appealed to the Supreme Administrative Tribunal against the Minister's decision.

    In July the Justice Ministry informed Amnesty International that a prison guard had been charged with a breach of discipline, punishable with exclusion from the prison service, in connection with the use of disproportionate force against prisoner Belmiro Santana in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Administrative and judicial inquiries were continuing.

    In December a psp officer was sentenced to a fine for the manslaughter of Carlos Araújo (see Amnesty International Report 1998). During the trial, the officer, who claimed he had fired in the air, could not explain how he had shot Carlos Araújo, and questions were raised about the inadequacy of firearms training. Carlos Araújo's companions, Luis Correia and 16-year-old Sérgio Nogueira, were sentenced in February to two years' imprisonment for theft by a juvenile court in Évora. They were appealing against the sentence. igai had brought disciplinary charges against another officer for beating them and Carlos Araújo while they were in custody “without any of them having done anything to justify” the beating.

    Amnesty International wrote to the Justice Minister about five specific cases of alleged ill-treatment of prisoners by custodial staff, including two fatalities, and raised with the Interior Minister cases of alleged ill-treatment and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. It urged the authorities to ensure full and prompt investigations into all such allegations and sought information from the authorities on the progress of inquiries already opened.

    The Director-General of the Prison Service, attached to the Ministry of Justice, subsequently informed Amnesty International that internal inquiries into the cases of Augusto da Conceiça Mata and Alberico A. Lopes Correia had been closed because there was no evidence that custodial staff had acted improperly against the prisoners. The Director-General added that, in the latter case, a fracture of the nose had not been confirmed. While admitting that prison guards had used force against Alberico Correia, he said that it had been “necessary and proportional”, and that Alberico Correia faced criminal charges of violent resistance against prison guards.

    In November Amnesty International representatives attended an international seminar, “Human Rights and Police Efficiency”, organized by igai, which is responsible for monitoring and improving the quality of law enforcement. The seminar was attended by numerous officers from police forces in Portugal.


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