Europe

Portugal sentences three police officers over Ukrainian man’s death

Three Portuguese border police officers have been handed prison sentences for beating a Ukrainian migrant to death.

A Lisbon court found that the inspectors kicked and beat the handcuffed Ihor Homeniuk with batons, breaking his ribs and causing death by asphyxiation. It happened on March 12, 2020, in the temporary reception centre at Lisbon airport.

He had arrived in Portugal by plane two days earlier from Turkey without a valid visa, in search of work.

Homeniuk was immediately detained by immigration authorities for deportation after refusing to board a flight out of the country.

On Monday, three police officials were sentenced to between seven and nine years in prison over the 40-year-old man’s death.

The case has raised concerns over the Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) and has prompted the country’s government to seek to reform the institution and withdraw its police powers.

The former head of the SEF, Cristina Gatoes, resigned in December following months of backlash over the case.

“The death of Ihor Homeniuk was a direct consequence of the conduct of the defendants, who had a duty to act differently,” said Judge Rui Coelho, announcing the verdict at Lisbon Criminal Court.

The three officers were not charged with aggravated murder, but were instead convicted of “offences against physical integrity aggravated by the fact of having caused death”.

Judges found that the officers did not intend to kill Homeniuk and were not aware that the injuries they inflicted on him could be fatal.

The verdict has been welcomed by Ihor Homeniuk’s family, according to their lawyer José Gaspar Schwalbach.

This judgment is a step forward,” Schwalbach said. “Justice has been done, it will serve as an example.”

Lawyers for the three defendants have indicated that they will appeal the decision.

Judges have also for investigations to be held against other officials and security personnel who failed to help Homeniuk, while he was beaten at Lisbon airport.

In December, Portugal’s government announced that it would compensate Homeniuk’s family €713,000, as defined by the country’s Ombudsman’s Office.

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