Six out of seven defendants tried for sexual assault and involvement in a paedophile ring were handed jail sentences of between five and 18 years at a Lisbon court on Friday.
REUTERS - A Portuguese court, giving its first findings in one of the country's longest and highest profile trials, ruled on Friday that all seven defendants committed child abuse at a state orphanage.
The defendants, including a well-known television presenter, a former diplomat and two doctors, are charged with being members of a network that systematically abused children from the Casa Pia state home for orphans.
In the packed courtroom, judges Lopes Barata and Ester Santos read out "facts considered proven," in the case. They said Carlos Silvino, the former driver at Casa Pia, had sexually abused several under-aged boys in the orphanage garage and then given them money.
The judges will continue reading out their findings before announcing their verdicts and handing down sentences later in the day, ending a trial that has lasted six years.
"These men have to be condemned, they committed barbarous crimes against humanity," Pedro Namora, a former pupil at Casa Pia and now a lawyer, told reporters.
Five of the 32 victims, now in their early 20s, were in the courtroom with their lawyers. Another victim, sitting in the public section, cried and shook nervously during the session.
Carlos Cruz, a popular TV presenter and producer, Jorge Ritto, a former diplomat, two doctors, a former Casa Pia director and Silvino are accused of around 900 crimes in total.
Silvino has confessed to some of the crimes but all the other defendants say they are innocent. If found guilty, they could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.
The weekly newspaper Expresso broke the story in late 2002 when it reported that a driver at Casa Pia had been abusing children at the institution for years.
Soon more alarming reports appeared, alleging that the driver had taken children from the orphanage to other places where they were abused by a number of wealthy individuals.
Before the Casa Pia case, Portuguese media had long shied away from reporting on issues like child abuse. But there was blanket coverage on Friday, with major television stations giving uninterrupted coverage of the court proceedings.
Many Portuguese believe convictions would send an important signal to abusers, but others feel the case has been blown out of proportion.
Many say the trial has shown up the slowness and inefficiency of Portuguese courts, especially in handling a trial on this scale -- 920 witnesses were heard in 460 court sessions.
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