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Rehabilitation with a century of delay for the last person sentenced to death in Portugal

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Rehabilitation with a century of delay for the last person sentenced to death in Portugal

The State Council recommends grant of grace posthumously to soldier João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida, only Portuguese firing squad for desertion in First World War

With first light of dawn of 16 of September, 1917, João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida, a soldier of Expeditionary Corps Portuguese (CEP) at front of Flanders, was positioned in front of a wall on outskirts of Laventie, France. To his front, firing squad consists of four soldiers from Infantry Battalion # 14 expected to execute sentence pronounced by court of war a few days before: for crime of desertion, Almeida was sentenced to death.

According to memoirs of a military doctor witness to shooting, scene was patic. The soldiers of platoon knew of convict and failed to hide ir tears, to point towards him. The 23-year old man, for his part, pleaded with m not you y shot to face, so that his family could recognize. Was not aware that it would be buried in Lille a few hours after, and that ir loved ones would never see his corpse.

eight quarter to lieutenant in charge of platoon placed a blindfold over eyes of condemned. The order of shooting, followed immediately by roar of espingardas, ended with silence of dawn and life of soldier Almeida. None of those present knew, but at that time it closed a chapter in history of Portugal. It was last time that Portuguese Republic would apply death penalty, and in 100 years that have passed since that cold September morning, no court luso-civil or military - has re-imposed capital punishment.

Although it is unlikely that neighbouring country has not executed anyone during last century -even during more than 40 years of dictatorship salazarista, and along bloody Colonial War-, in recent years, many have called for greater recognition -and clemency - last shot. After years of active campaign on part of military organizations, and coinciding with 150th anniversary of abolition of death penalty for civilians in Portugal, this week Council of Ministers has approved a decision urging president of Republic " adoption of an act of grace rehabilitation moral" of soldier Almeida.

In coming days it is expected that head of State, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, sign act, allowing reintegration of Almeida, in list of members of military who gave ir lives for Portugal during First World War.

A case absurd in times of war

In 1867, Portugal became first sovereign State in european abolition of death penalty, sentence was reinstated exceptionally in front of battle during First World War, a conflict which involved almost 200,000 Portuguese.

The war was devastating for neighbouring country: 82.000 civilians died because of famine caused by shipment of food to front, while more than 12,000 soldiers of CEP lost ir lives, crushed trenches of Ypres. With growing discontent of troops and real possibility of a riot at front in November 1916, Portugal copied model of French army, which applied capital punishment to any soldier who displayed "cowardice", or express a desire to defect. In an attempt to deter any type of disobedience, France executed more than 600 soldiers throughout conflict for reasons often absurd: in 1915, a recruit was shot for daring to ask for a coat with which to protect mselves from cold in front of battle.

The military Portuguese turned out to be equally irrational, because only time I decided to apply this exemplary punishment, y did it with soldier Almeida, a guy who even witnesses, contemporaries pointed to as someone who was no traitor, but a poor man who suffered from neuroses of war. Before being drafted, Almeida had worked as a chauffeur at house of a German wealthy resident in Oporto. After six months exposed to bombardments of artillery, attacks of poison gas, and loads of no man's land, soldier had fallen into a state of hysteria permanent, and spoke only of possibility of taking refuge in lines of enemy. According to testimony of his fellow battalion, young man was convinced that his former chief of German was a high charge on or side of no man's land, and that he would protect m.

Although none of companions of Almeida took his comments hysterical seriously, hearing of ir claims by captain of battalion reported back to his superiors, and young soldier was arrested. In his judgment, chief of medical service military stated that recruits showed clear signs of madness, but war tribunal ignored testimony and issued death sentence also.

Reconciliation with past

such As Portugal and France, throughout First World War both allied armies as axis implemented policies of shooting to try to control subversive movements within its ranks. The German Empire ran just 48 soldiers during five years that lasted war, while Kingdom of Italy were shot 750 military between 1914 and 1917.

In recent years, several countries have reviewed convictions of soldiers shot by ir own countries during Great War, and in 2006 Uk was first country to enact an amnesty posthumous of 306 servicemen executed for cowardice and desertion during this period. In Portugal, since beginning of this decade, League of Combatants - largest trade union of veterans of war lusos - took case of Almeida as a cause of ir own, and ir efforts in achieving ir rehabilitation are cited expressly by Council of Ministers in deliberation that has been sent to headquarters of State.

The Council of Ministers affirms that request of grace in favor of soldier Almeida "is justified as an act of reconciliation that allows to rehabilitate last sentenced to death." Although it makes clear that it is not put in doubt " facts or basis of conviction", Government defends necessity of carrying out this "a humanitarian act, through rehabilitation of memory" of shot.

through this small symbolic gesture and humanitarian law, Executive seeks to do justice to someone who lost his life through a "punishment contrary to Human Rights and values of Portuguese society".

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