GNR torture case fails on appeal

A GNR agent accused of torture eight years ago has seen his tardy condemnation overturned on appeal.

At the initial trial which went ahead after the case was reopened due to complaints by the European Committee Against Torture, one of the judges said: “It’s not by chance that Portugal is targeted by international entities. Their police officers and prison guards go far beyond what should be their conduct”.

But a procedural ‘error’ in the trial meant that it has been annulled on appeal by a new panel of judges in Évora.

Now it is unclear what will happen. The GNR officer in question – no longer ‘in the field’ and since promoted – may have to face another trial, or the whole issue could end up being forgotten.

The torture involved the officer allegedly whipping four known felons with a very unpleasant homemade weapon known as a ‘picha de bói’ (made of animal skin), punching them and cutting one on the buttocks as he warned the group to keep away from what he called ‘his territory’.

The officer – a corporal at the time – denied the charges.

As Público explains, the case may never have got to trial. It was only that in 2013 the European Committee Against Torture dedicated an entire chapter in one of its reports on the story, saying that the authorities in Portugal had not conducted a diligent investigation into the victims’ complaints.

Two years later the case was ‘reopened’ and a panel of judges condemned the now Major to four and a half years in jail, ruling that his answers over how the victims got their injuries were ‘contemptible’.

However, the leader of the bench slipped up in the form that he delivered the sentence. The officer was condemned for one crime of torture, when it should have been four (corresponding to the number of victims). And it was that omission that caused the ruling to be overturned.

Had judges in Évora not annulled the lower court’s sentence, it would have been the first time that a GNR officer was condemned to jail-time for torture, explains Público.

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