Portugal: Deadly racism, far-right growth draw global concern

Just over a month ago, Mamadou Ba was having dinner with friends when he received an email warning of “measures” against him and his family if he failed to “terminate political functions and leave Portuguese territory” within 48 hours.

There were nine other recipients, including three members of Parliament.

Ba is an anti-racism activist and heads SOS Racismo. The Portuguese citizen, born in Senegal, arrived 23 years ago as a student.

In August, SOS Racismo’s headquarters were at the centre of what local media described as a “Ku klux klan style parade”, where individuals were seen carrying torches and wearing white masks.

“It is harder because of my children, my son is 15 years old and very aware of everything that has been happening, young kids feel things differently.

“This shows there is a real issue of racism in Portugal, and there is a struggle to fight.”

Given the threats, he was recently given police protection.

The abusive email came amid rising concerns over the far right and reports of racism, at times deadly, in Portugal.

In early September, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe and American intellectual Cornel West joined dozens of activists and academics around the world in signing an open letter calling for solidarity with the Black movement in Portugal, demanding accountability and concrete change to transform the “reality of structural racism and its manifestation in police brutality, racist violence and racial harassment in Portugal”.

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has also sought action from authorities in a letter endorsed by 16 members of the European Parliament and 72 civil society organisations, condemning recent cases of police brutality and racist attacks.

In February, Claudia Simoes, who is Angolan-Portuguese, was kicked by a policeman and placed in a chokehold outside a bus station in front of her daughter, after forgetting her child’s bus pass.

She was then put in a police car where she was allegedly attacked and subject to racial slurs. She was eventually hospitalised and diagnosed with severe traumatic brain injury, local media reported.

Simoes was charged while in hospital for resisting arrest. But following protests demanding the police officer’s suspension, the officer was charged.

According to local media reports, a senior police official later said all he saw in the video was a “police-officer doing his job”.

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