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Young black Portuguese men take police brutality case to court

justiceEighteen months ago, they were defendants, accused of storming a police station.

But since that case was overturned last year, Flavio Almada, Celso Lopes, Rui Moniz, Miguel Reis, Paulo Veiga and Bruno Lopes have been testifying not as the accused, but as victims in an unprecedented trial that has put 17 officers of the PSP - Portugal's public police force - in the dock.

The new case, currently being heard in court, rejects the version of events previously offered by the police officers, and charges them with physical assault, aggravated kidnapping, inhumane treatment and inciting racially-motivated discrimination, hatred and violence - as well as slander, falsifying witness testimonies and falsifying documentation.

The case dates back to February 2015 and is being accompanied by Amnesty International and SOS Racism, among others.

"We've never seen so many police officers on trial facing the same charges," says Goncalo Gaspar, a lawyer for the defence.

According to Jose Fernandes, a lawyer from the team representing six of the alleged victims, all of them young, black men, "no police officers have ever been sentenced for anything like this in Portugal - and the very fact that there has been an accusation at all is something of a victory for us."

Lisbon's Cova da Moura neighbourhood, where most of the plaintiffs live, is known for its proud, predominantly Cape Verdean community.

But the relationship between the residents and police has been tense, with several outbursts of serious violence in recent years, including the killing of 17-year-old Angelo Semedo at the hands of police in 2001, and the death of a police officer there in 2005.

"The kind of policing that these mostly black neighbourhoods are subjected to is exceptional," says Fernandes, the lawyer. "And I know because I grew up in one. They often turn up in armoured trucks and wearing masks ... People are very scared of them."

Meanwhile, speaking in defence of his police clients, Gaspar says: "It's a very problematic neighbourhood, where there's quite a lot of crime and social problems. In this case ... a certain amount of force was necessary."

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