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WORLD | 26-04-2018 17:41

Anger erupts in Spain after five accused of gang rape jailed for sexual abuse

The five members of "La Manada" — or "The Pack," after the nickname the group gave themselves — were found guilty of sexual abuse, which doesn't involve violence or intimidation under Spain's criminal code.

Protests erupted across Spain today after a court in the northern city of Pamplona sentenced five men to nine years each in prison for the lesser crime of sexual abuse in what activists saw as a gang rape during the 2016 running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.

The men, aged 27 to 29, had been accused of raping the woman, then aged 18, at the entrance to an apartment building on July 7, 2016, at the start of the week-long San Fermín festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors. 

The five, who are all from the southern city of Seville, allegedly filmed the incident with their smartphones and then bragged about it on a WhatsApp messaging group where they referred to themselves as "La Manada," or "The Pack" in English.

"It's not abuse, it's rape!" shouted protesters in live television broadcasts from the gates of the Navarra provincial court when the ruling was announced.

Many demonstrators shook their fists at the building or held up signs that reading: "We believe you, sister", images broadcast on Spanish TV showed.

"I am outraged that after a gang rape you must suffer the violence of patriarchal justice," Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said in a Twitter message addressed to the victim.

"You are not alone, today we will be thousands taking to the streets and joining our voices to yours," she added.

Police stopped the crowd from advancing toward the entrance to the court, with some angry demonstrators shoving officers.

Thousands of protesters gathered hours later in central Pamplona and most of Spain's major cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Bilbao, Valencia and Zaragoza. Demonstrators shouted slogans like "No is no!" while some waved homemade signs and wore red gloves as a symbol of protest.

'Sexual abuse'

On Thursday the five members of "La Manada" were found guilty of "sexual abuse," which in Spain means that there was no "violence or intimidation" in the case.

One of the accused is a Guardia Civil policeman – currently suspended – and another was previously in the Army. Several are "ultras" (more or less, football hooligans) who support FC Sevilla.

The judges at the Pamplona court in northern Spain did not sentence them to the more serious charge of sexual assault, which includes rape. Prosecutors had sought the more severe charge along with harsher sentences of more than 22 years in prison each.

The court agreed there was no consent because the defendants were in a position of "superiority that curtailed the victim's freedom." Prosecutors had argued during the trial last autumn there was "serious intimidation and it prevented resistance or flight."

One of the three judges in the panel voted in favour of acquitting the defendants, the court said. 

Both the prosecution and the defense announced later they would appeal the decision.

The five men, all Spanish citizens, were friends who travelled to Pamplona to party during the San Fermín festival in July 2016.

According to testimony at the trial, the men offered to accompany the victim to her car but instead hauled her into a building where they filmed their assault with their smartphones. They then stole her mobile phone and left.

Defence lawyers had argued the victim agreed to the sexual encounter and would only acknowledge the gang had stolen the mobile of the girl, who was left half naked in the building entrance. But prosecutors pointed out that the victim had met the men just seven minutes before the incident and did not even know their names.

To support the claim, the defence lawyers produced private detectives' reports on the victim's behaviour after the incident, causing outrage among women's rights groups who said the victim was being judged for her behaviour rather than the attackers. The defence then withdrew the report.

Spaniards adopted the slogan "I believe you" on their social media profiles in support of the woman and street protests were held in Madrid and other Spanish cities in November.

'Practically free'

In addition to the prison time, the court ruled they should jointly compensate the victim with 50,000 euros (US$61,000) and refrain from contacting her for 15 years. The five have been in pre-trial custody since they were arrested after the incident.

The president of Spain's Feminist Party, Lidia Falcón, told La Sexta television that the ruling means rape in Spain is "practically free" of punishment.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria said the government "had to respect" the controversial ruling, while adding that authorities must respond to the public uproar.

"I think we have to analyze what we as public authorities must do so that incidents like this don't happen again in our country," she said.

Justice Minister Raphael Catalá said that the laws in question date from 1995 should be reviewed to see if "it is convenient to push for their revision."

- TIMES/AP/AFP

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