Police union defies minister by using fake images

A police union shared pictures of the arrest of three men who were on the run on Facebook and was criticized by a government minister. Their comeback? Sharing pictures of the allegedly beaten up victims -- but they were all fake.

Catia Bruno
Cátia Bruno NewsMavens, Portugal
Police union defies minister by using fake images - NewsMavens
Eduardo Cabrita. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Three men escaped through an open window in the middle of their own trial for assault. The story obviously made the headlines, and the police initiated a country-wide manhunt. By the end of the day, the three men had been caught and re-arrested, thanks to the assistance of one of their girlfriends.

The story could have ended here, but it did not. On that same evening, one of the national police unions shared a picture of the three men on Facebook: they could be seen on the floor, one of them shirtless, with their hands tied behind their backs. The faces of the men were clearly visible. The caption states ironically "here are the champions who made the police work overtime to get them back". 

The picture sparked a public discussion: is it justifiable to share an image of detainees in possibly degrading circumstances? Are their crimes reason enough? And if you disagree, does it make sense to reshare the very picture you are criticizing?

Both the Minister of Internal Adminstration, Eduardo Cabrita, and NGOs such as Amnesty International denounced the post. "It's an undignified spectacle", the minister said.

Then the situation got worse. A different police union reacted to the minister's statements by publishing a series of pictures of older men and women who had clearly been beaten. The caption said: "Get outraged by this, Mr. Minister."

Online, people started to assume the pictures were of the real victims, which the union did not clarify. The controversy grew greater after one newspaper proved that the people portrayed in the pictures were not Portuguese victims, but rather older people who had been attacked at different times in the UK and Brazil.

Details from the story:

  • The pictures used can be found on online articles published by BBC, Daily Mail, Metro and two Brazilian outlets.
  • The real victims were Brazilian and UK citizens. The assaults happened between 2013 and 2017.
  • Officially, the union claims they did not have access to images of the real victims and even if they did, they could have not used them.
  • The Ministry did not comment. 
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