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Two brothers convicted of murder of biracial man in high-profile Danish trial

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Flowers were left at the shelter where Phillip Mbuji Johansen was found on June 23 on the Danish island of Bornholm.
Flowers were left at the shelter where Phillip Mbuji Johansen was found on June 23 on the Danish island of Bornholm.   -   Copyright  PELLE RINK/AFP
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Two Danish brothers have been convicted 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.

Mads and Magnus Moeller have been each sentenced to 14 years in prison for the murder.

The brothers, aged 23 and 26, were accused of kicking, stabbing, and beating the victim to death using a wooden pole, a bottle, and a knife.

They tortured Phillip Johansen for at least 20 minutes, according to a medical examiner who testified in court, and left him helpless in the woods.

One of the brothers also pressed a knee onto the victim's neck during the attack, the court heard.

The two men had admitted to the three judges and six jurors that they had attacked Johansen, who had Danish and Tanzanian roots, but denied 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.

But both the prosecution and defence lawyers had 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.

Benthe Pedersen Lund added that she was satisfied with the sentence for the "gruesome murder".

Both defense lawyers indicated that they would appeal the verdict and the sentencing. The trial took place in Roenne, the main town on Bornholm, south of Sweden.

PELLE RINK/AFP
Prosecutors said there were insufficient grounds to charge the suspects under hate crime regulations, despite speculation that the killing was racially motivated.PELLE RINK/AFP

The Danish chapter of SOS-Racism, an international association, had said a racist motive couldn't be ruled out in Phillip Johansen's killing, and the Danish chapter of Black Lives Matter had portrayed the case as a "racial murder."

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.