Two Danish brothers have gone on trial suspected of killing a biracial man on the island of Bornholm in June.
The body of 28-year-old Phillip Mbuji Johansen was found in a forest on the Baltic Sea island on June 23, after he had spent the evening drinking with the two suspects. He died hours later.
The brothers, aged 23 and 26, are accused of kicking, stabbing, and beating the victim to death, while using a wooden pole, a bottle, and a knife.
They have admitted to attacking Johansen, who had Danish and Tanzanian roots but deny having intended to kill him.
The case has provoked concerns and debate in Denmark over racism, especially as it came shortly after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States.
Goerge Floyd’s death on May 25 sparked worldwide protests demanding racial justice and condemning police brutality. An estimated 15,000 people attended a demonstration in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen on June 7.
The two Danish suspects are also accused of pressing a knee onto the victim’s neck during the attack.
Neither of the defendants can be named under Danish rules.
But both the prosecution and defence lawyers have ruled out a racial motive and say the murder was a personal relationship that went wrong.
Chief prosecutor Benthe Pedersen Lund said officials did not find sufficient grounds to charge the brothers under Denmark’s hate crime legislation, because of their “long-standing friendship with the deceased”.
The brothers have claimed they assaulted Phillip Johansen because he raped their mother, although this had never been reported to the police.
If found guilty of murder, the two suspects face up to 10 years imprisonment.
The trial, which is taking place in Roenne, the main town on Bornholm, is likely to conclude on Tuesday.
In Denmark, complaints of racist crime are rare but steadily increasing since 2007, and almost doubled between 2016 and 2018, from 140 to 260, according to figures from the Crime Prevention Council.
Rights activists have accused Danish officials of being unable to recognise racism in the country.
Mira C. Skadegård, racism and discrimination researcher at Aalborg University, said it was “absurd” and “embarrassing” to suggest that racism did not play a role in the death of Phillip Mbuji Johansen.
“I am shocked that both the police – and large parts of the press – do not relate to the racism issue,” said Skadegård.
In 2016, Denmark made headlines by passing a law requiring asylum-seekers to hand over valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (€1,340), to help cover housing and food costs while their cases were being processed.
The country’s Parliament was also criticised for voting in a controversial immigration bill in 2019 which tightened regulations on refugees in the country.