The constitution, drafted in the heat of the 1974 "Carnation Revolution" led by leftist army captains who overthrew the Estado Novo dictatorship that took root in 1933 inspired by the Italy of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, also bans "racist groups or organizations with a fascist ideology."
The leader of the accused skinheads, Mario Machado, has been in preventive detention for the past year. The other 35 defendants, including Machado's two deputies Vasco Leitao and Rui Verissimo, were granted conditional release but are subject to electronic monitoring by means of bracelets that track their movements, and must periodically report to their parole officers while they await sentencing.
Machado had earlier been sentenced to four years in prison for heading a group of 15 skinheads who beat and kicked to death Alcino Monteiro, a 27-year-old Portuguese citizen of African origin, in June 1995.
The case that came to trial this week dates back to an April 2007 nationwide joint operation by different police forces and the militarized National Republican Guard, which searched local Hammerskins offices and arrested the group's members.
The Hammerskin Nation originated in Texas in the late 1980s, but has since become a well-organized international movement with chapters throughout the United States and in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and a number of European countries.
The 36 skinheads are also accused of posting Internet threats against Judge Candida Vilar, who sentenced Machado to preventive detention.
In the 240-page accusation, the prosecutors mention several examples of racist propaganda on neo-Nazi web sites, in which the defendants "promote hatred against blacks, gypsies, Jews and homosexuals."
The document also cites the Portuguese band "Odio" (Hatred), which performs exclusively at concerts organized by white power skinheads.
The band recently taped "Morte aos traidores" (Death to Traitors), an album that includes the song "The Horrible Jew," whose lyrics say "Oh horrible Jew! You are going to die tonight/You are going to die tonight for the victory of our night/Die, die."
According to the prosecution, the defendants took part in violent actions aimed at "unleashing a racial war with the intention of fighting for the supremacy of the white race, thus subverting the functioning of the constitutionally established institutions of the state of law."
The accusation states that the group's ideological orientation is similar to that of Italy's neo-fascists and Britain and Germany's neo-Nazis.
Despite the evidence against the group, Machado's defense lawyer Jose Manuel Castro said in statements to the TSF-Radio Jornal station in Lisbon Tuesday that the trial had a "political bias" and was thus incompatible with "the rights, freedoms and guarantees enjoyed by citizens."
Because of the scant popularity of the extreme-right in Portugal, one of the most racially heterogeneous countries in Europe, the skinheads' defense attorneys have apparently decided on a strategy based on the argument that the court is "simply prosecuting ideas," as Castro stated.
Jose Falcao, head of the non-governmental group SOS-Racismo, which fights for the rights of immigrants and against xenophobic groups, told IPS that "we would like to see these people brought to justice for once -- these people who threaten and issue death sentences against human rights activists, who even insult the president (Anibal Cavaco Silva), without anything happening to them up to now."
"It is not even necessary to invoke the constitution to bring the xenophobic extreme right to trial for their crimes, because they commit crimes that are covered by the penal code," said the activist.
Falcao has become a well-known national figure after his years of fighting police brutality against immigrants from Brazil and former Portuguese colonies in Africa, as well as dark-skinned Portuguese citizens.
The extreme right in Portugal often feels "encouraged by what is happening in many police stations, where violence is common, including threats, bodily harm, illegal detention and even murders in custody," said the activist.
Most cases of police brutality go unreported by immigrants from former colonies like Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe or Brazil, "due to their fear of being deported."
Falcao knows all too well what he is talking about. As he was returning home one day in 1995, he tried to defend three African immigrants who were being beaten by the police. Not only did the police continue their beating, but they arrested and brutalized the activist as well.
"The problem is that the 1995 case was not an exception, the result of police excess. A decade later, in 2005, a young African man was shot to death by a police officer in a shopping center and the judge acquitted the officer, accepting his argument that his weapon was fired accidentally," said Falcao.
The only person sentenced in that case "was me, to 20 months in prison and a 4,000 euro fine, because I criticized the verdict handed down by the judge, who prosecuted me for libel."
"In other words, in Portugal it would appear that criticising a judge can be more serious than killing someone," said Falcao.
Comments? Send a letter to the editor.
Albion Monitor April
9, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.