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Murder of Gisberta in Portugal 2006

Paraphrased from an email sent to Press For Change, to improve clarity.

A brazillian immigrant known as Gisberta was found dead on the 22nd of February in a pit 10 metres deep on a construction site for a building in Oporto, the second largest city in Portugal. She was a known transsexual sex worker with drug problems and HIV. She had been staying on the construction site because she was homeless.

A group of fourteen boys aged between 10 and 16 confessed to her murder. The boys mostly belong to a child protection institution run by the Catholic Church and financed by the Portugese government. The boys are known to have chased, insulted and harrassed Gisberta frequently.

On the 19th of February, the boys entered the building where Gisberta was staying, tied her up, gagged her and assaulted her with extreme violence; kicking her and beating her with sticks and stones. The group also confessed to sexually assaulting her with sticks. Gisberta’s body was discovered with many injuries and burn marks from cigarettes. The boys returned to continue their attack on the 20th and 21st of February. Sometime between the 21st and 22nd, they threw Gisberta into the pit where she was later discovered. An autopy will confirm whether she was still alive.

The story was widely covered by the Portugese media on the 23rd and 24th but in a biased and erroneous manner. Sections of the media referred to Gisberta as a transvestite while most only made reference to her homelessness or called her a homeless sex worker and drug addict. In a number of stories, the media referred to her as ‘Gisberto’, her male name. Many newspapers, even before giving any details about the victim or the circumstances of their death, ran articles from commentators known to be anti-trans and anti-gay. These commentators argued that Gisberta’s murder couldn’t be considered a hate crime and centred their arguments on the underage status of most of her killers.

The media also ignored press releases from Portugese LGBT associations, who attempted to clarify Gisberta’s identity and her transsexuality. These associations also called for social measures against discrimination and protection against trans- and homophobic hate crimes as well as hate crimes on the grounds of social condition, disease and national origin. Some small reference was made on the 24th about a solidarity vigil supported by the LGBT organisations but the arguments by these associations continued to be ignored, as did the transphobia behind the crime.

While no political party in Portugal gave any comment or condemned the crime, a few politicians expressed their own personal opinion on what happened. The only comment was “the feeling of shock” and the demand for an inquiry, from the Portugese government was a statement by the minister for the underage institutions where the murderers came from. With the exception of a 16-year-old boy who is in “preventative imprisonment”, the killers were sent back to their care institute and are on a “semi-liberty regime”.

No photo of Gisberta was printed in any newspaper. The media and commentators have focussed on the shock aspect of the age of the aggressors and published insinuations by the priest running the boys’ institution that one of the boys was being abused by a paedophile and that this would provide “extenuating circumstances” for their motivations. No reaction to this declaration has been published. Information about Gisberta’s sexual assault and the possibility that she drowned in the pit where she was abandoned was only printed in one Oporto newspaper.

Four days after the event, the media in Portugal is silent about the crime and indications are that it will remain this way.

Contacts For Sending Protests

Portugese Government:

Portugese Parliament

Parliamentary Groups

A Sample Protest Letter

Dear Sir/Madam,

It is with great regret that I have just learned that a woman known as Gisberta was found dead on the 22nd of February on a building site in Oporto; a group of boys aged between 10 and 16 having confessed to her murder. Gisberta was known to have a fragile health condition and was frequently harassed by her killers, who came from a local, state-funded child protection institution under the control of the Catholic Church.

I am informed that the killers entered the building where Gisberta was seeking refuge on the 19th of February and began a three-day campaign of violence and sexual assault against Gisberta, whom they tied up and gagged so she could not escape. At the end of their extended assault, they are known to have thrown the victim into a pit where it is likely she drowned.

Media coverage of this crime has been biased and replete with inaccuracies. The media focus has been on the underage status of the aggressors and has given great coverage to the opinions of transphobic and homophobic individuals while ignoring the press releases of Portugese LGBT associations.. Where details of the crime were printed, a number of newspapers chose to refer to Gisberta by her former, male name and refer to her as a transvestite, in clear opposition to her current name and true status.

In light of this horrific murder, massive omissions of basic facts by the reporting media, attempts to devalue the crime by ignoring its hatred factor and apparent media and political ignorance of the situation, we call for:

Solidarity with the victim and the activists in Portugal who are: trying to bring to light the facts behind the murder; and demand protection against trans- and homophobic violence and discrimination, in line with other European states; Respect for the positions defended by these activists and urgent action on their demands, to put Portugal on a par with the rest of Europe; An investigation into the manner in which the media and political parties in Portugal have dealt with this crime, from the manipulation of facts to the total absence of adequate answers to the problems raised by the situation at hand; and Acknowledgement that this situation represents a total disrespect for even basic human rights in a manner that it totally unacceptable in a 21st Century European state.

Yours faithfully,