The “good name” of the Foreigners and Borders Service

-A report about the trial against social activists from Oporto for defamation of the SEF

After a long process of over four years, four social activists from Oporto, accused of defamation by the Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), were acquitted in October 2010. The case dates back to 2006, when a large movement of denunciation and indignation was generated, assigning to the SEF the moral responsibility for the death of Ahmed Hussein, a Pakistani worker who committed suicide after his residence permit in Portugal was refused. Among the activists victimized by this trial was a member of the local group of AIT-SP (International Workers Association – Portuguese Section).

In the hands of the SEF

It all began in May 2006 when Pakistani workers from Oporto denounced the way in which the precarious worker Ahmed Hussein had been treated at the Oporto branch of the SEF. Hussein, married and father of two children, had been legally residing in Portugal for 5 years, a precarious worker like many thousands of others, both Portuguese and immigrants. He had been confronted by the SEF with the requirement to prove to have an annual income of more than 5400 Euros in order to renew his residence permit... Arguing justly that even many Portuguese workers did not receive this amount annually, Hussein demanded from the Portuguese State the refunding of his Social Security contributions so that he could return to his country. Ridiculed and badly treated – in which he was not, until today, the solely case in the SEF of Oporto! –, threatened with expulsion, as he told his friends, Hussein fell into a depression and eventually killed himself by jumping off the D. Luis Bridge over the Douro river.

Despite having in his clothes his personal documents (passport and tax number), his friends and family only knew what had happened to Hussein a week later, after searching for his body in the Institute of Forensic Medicine of Oporto, where the incineration was already being prepared without any communication to the consulate or to his relatives and friends.

The protests of June 2006

These events were then followed by a press conference and some solidarity public meetings of Portuguese and migrant workers. On the 24th of June of 2006, a public demonstration of grief and struggle went through the streets of Porto, with more than 600 people demanding the resignation of Eduardo Margarido, the director of the Oporto branch of the SEF, and protesting against discrimination and bureaucracy of those services. This demonstration had the support of various organizations from Oporto, including those that signed the call, that were engaged in various activities in support of immigrants and ethnic minorities.

The events involving the Pakistani worker Ahmed Hussein were after all the culmination of many discriminatory attitudes that violate the most fundamental "human rights" (we remember the maintenance of “illegal” immigrants inside containers transformed into a "temporary prison" by the SEF in Oporto’s Airport in 2004,) and corruption charges against officials of the northern branch of the SEF…

It is important to remember that in that same year of 2006 there were several serious episodes in Oporto revealing the discriminatory and racist way in which poor immigrants were being handled by the "authorities". The most serious of them took place in July, when the Egyptian construction worker M. Abbas, unable to work due to a work "accident" (we prefer to call it a bosses’ CRIME!), was taken for a "Moroccan thief" on the beach of Espinho, lead to the local police station and beaten savagely by the PSP (Public Security Police). At that time several organizations filed complaints against the police… that were all eventually filed and forgotten...

An attempt of legal intimidation

In December 2006, a process was moved by SEF Oporto against activists of four organizations of Oporto (Essalam, Terra Viva, AACILUS and MUSAS). They were charged with "aggravated defamation" against the Foreigners and Borders Service, for daring to denounce the way in which this police (and others) had been dealing with migrant workers.

In 2009, on the eve of the first session of the trial process, three organizations, Essalam, Terra Viva and Musas, signed a public statement declaring that “this process is primarily an attempt to intimidate immigrant workers and organizations who dare to fight for their legitimate rights, but this won’t make us shut up”.

The trial was postponed several times, there was an attempt to pass the case to the Criminal Court of Oporto (the old “Plenary Court” from the times of the fascist regime), which did not work due to the work of committed lawyers, and finally in September 2010 took place the first session of the trial.

In October 2010, before the facts and "accusation witnesses" - SEF officers who claimed to "know or have seen nothing" unless "the good name of the corporation" being put in question - the court pronounced for the acquittal. The court acknowledged that there was no factual evidence relating to allegations of the former director of the northern branch of the SEF, Eduardo Margarido - absent on leave, he didn’t deigned to appear in court ... It was evident that those activists were only acting according to the most basic values ​​of solidarity and freedom.

Meanwhile, exploitation and precariousness continue to progress, affecting workers of all origins. Therefore, our struggle against exploitation by bosses, corruption of politicians and state officials will also continue!

AIT-SP
International Workers Association – Portuguese Section

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