“Parents lost their children, but the court thinks it’s normal” – outrage follows Commando trial verdict

Shock, outrage and a flurry of appeals have followed yesterday’s verdict in the trial of 19 members of the Commandos special forces unit, cited in the horrific deaths of two young recruits.

Dylan Silva and Hugo Abreu, both aged 20, died as a result of multiple organ failure following a brutal “Prova Zero” exercise in sweltering temperatures in September 2016.

Since their deaths, the Army has pledged that recruits will never again be denied water during exercises. 

The trial of the 19 officers, sergeants and other ranks seen as potentially culpable in the treatment that led to the young men’s deaths has taken years to reach yesterday’s verdict in which 16 were absolved, and three were given suspended jail sentences.

Seconds after the ruling was delivered prosecutor Isabel Lima – who had been calling for prison sentences for all those in the dock – said she would be lodging an appeal.

Lawyer for the families Ricardo Sá Fernandes has confirmed he too will be appealing: “These parents lost their children, but the court thinks this is normal”, he told reporters outside the court. 

“(The court) framed this as a war scenario where everything was permitted, and then understood that no crimes had been committed by military personnel. This allowed them to hide all the civil crimes as if they had never happened”, Miguel Santos Pereira, representing Dylan Silva’s mother, added.

So now – coming on for seven years since these tragic deaths –  the families involved are no closer to any kind of feeling of having won justice for their children.

The court ruled that three of the defendants: instructors Ricardo Rodrigues, Lenarte Inácio and Pedro Fernandes had abused their authority with offences to the physical integrity of the young men who died. But their jail terms, of three years, two years and two years respectively, were nonetheless suspended. A number of accusations against them remain ‘unproved’, said the court, including the allegation that Ricardo Rodrigues had stuffed earth into the mouth of Hugo Abreu (click here).

A total of 539 crimes were levelled against the 19 accused, and according to reports this morning, 536 of them were, in the court’s view, ‘unproved’.

Adding to this Kafkaesque situation (a description given by lawyer Sá Fernandes) is the fact that Alexandre Lafayette, the lawyer defending instructor Rodrigues, has said his client too will be appealing. He explained that a suspended sentence is “not a reduced conviction” but “a stain on the criminal record and military career” of his client.

“In Portugal there is no justice”, the father of Dylan Silva told reporters, wiping away tears and clearly stunned by the whole proceedings. “If they committed a crime, they should be jailed”.

The only certainty now is that whatever does eventually transpire on appeal will be a long time coming, as this trial too has taken years to reach its contentious verdict.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com