Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Opinion

Portugal sees spate of racist street attacks

  • Racist graffiti on the Lisbon headquarters of the NGO SOS Racism (Photo: SOS Racismo)

In the last months, there has been a very concerning rise of racist attacks of the far-right in Portugal.

Since 2019, when the Portuguese far-right party for the first time gained seats in parliament, far-right activists have been emboldened to commit racially-motivated crimes against people of colour in Portugal.

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They are also engaging in more aggressive tactics targeting human rights defenders from minority groups. Prominent human rights defenders and their families have recently been personally targeted and threatened, and have faced hate speech, death threats, and judicial harassment.

There have been widespread statements of solidarity and support from civil society organisations across Europe and from MEPs.

It is now urgent that Portuguese authorities respond to these attacks. So far, however, it seems that public authorities in Portugal are not taking the threat of the far right seriously enough and are not willing to address racism in the country.

Grim roll call

In January this year, a Portuguese woman of African descent and her daughter were racially attacked due to a missing bus ticket in Lisbon.

In February, two Brazilian women were victims of police brutality during the street carnival festivities close to a Cape-Verdian nightclub.

In the same month, the football player of African descent Moussa Marega was verbally attacked and insulted by supporters during a national match.

In July, the Portuguese actor of African descent, Bruno Candé was murdered in an explicitly racially-motivated crime in the streets of Lisbon.

These are the more prominent cases, but SOS Racismo has collected data on more than 700 racially-motivated crimes since 2012.

Research by the European Network Against Racism has shown that in Portugal, the police tend to not take reports of racist crime seriously and have themselves been perpetrators of violence, in a context where investigation and prosecution of racist crimes are hindered by institutional racism within the criminal justice system.

Anti-racist organisations and activists are not safe either.

SOS Racismo and its leader, Mamadou Ba, are under a protracted attack, as are other activists. In the beginning of 2020, Mamadou received a letter with a death threat and one bullet case at his home.

Since June, the headquarters of SOS Racismo were vandalised twice with swastikas and racist slurs.

In August, SOS Racismo, Mamadou, Beatriz Gomes Dias and Joacine Katar Moreira, two black members of parliament, received threats by email.

They were among a group of a dozen activists and trade unionists targeted. The far-right group leading all these attacks informed them of a deadline of 48 hours to leave the country, threatening to murder them and the members of their families if they did not leave.

The brutality, volume and frequency of attacks are increasing and leaving human rights defenders unsafe, especially in a context where they do not feel protected by authorities: the latest report of the Council of Europe's Commission on Racism and Intolerance reports an increase in the number of far-right affiliates in national police forces.

It is the responsibility of Portuguese authorities to effectively protect minority groups and human rights defenders from racist crime.

They must conduct sound and effective police investigations and hold all those inciting hatred and promoting violence against human rights defenders to account through a full process of law.

A lack of institutional response only reaffirms the historical sense of impunity for perpetrators of racist violence and denies the state of urgency to address racism in Portugal.

The European Union institutions also have a role to play in denouncing the rising racially-motivated violence and threats against human rights defenders in Europe and addressing the threat of far-right extremism.

While the EU is renowned for its support for human rights defenders worldwide, it must start looking inward and take effective action to address the increasing threats faced by human rights defenders within Europe, especially those acting against racism and promoting non-discrimination.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" said Martin Luther King. We do not need martyrs. We need protection for our leaders and our communities.

Author bio

Juliana Santos Wahlgren is senior advocacy officer at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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