Europe

Spain 'wolf pack' case: Thousands protest over rape ruling

Demonstrators in Madrid outside the Ministry of Justice - 26 April Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The protesters see the justice system as being distant from society

Thousands of people have been protesting across Spain, after a court acquitted five men of rape charges for an attack on a young woman during a bull-running festival.

Angry demonstrators packed central Madrid and other cities shouting "Shame! Shame!" and "No means no".

The five were jailed for nine years for sexual assault, but many saw the sentence as too lenient.

Both the woman and the defendants say they will appeal against the verdict.

The five - who belonged to a WhatsApp group called La manada (wolf pack) - filmed the attack, which took place during the San Fermin festival in Pamplona in July 2016.

The 18-year-old victim's ordeal caused a national outcry.

Under Spanish law, the charge of sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.

Women and men came out into the streets in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona itself, and in more than a dozen other cities across Spain.

In Madrid, police tried to block demonstrators who marched on the Congress of Deputies, shouting slogans such as "patriarchal justice" and "sister, here is your pack".

The protests began outside the courthouse in Pamplona, where supporters of the victim had gathered to hear the verdict, and women's rights groups organised protests elsewhere.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Many of the victim's supporters outside the court donned red gloves in protest

Altamira Gonzalo, vice-president of Themis, a Spanish organisation of women jurists, told Efe news agency: "It should have been a courageous sentence. The courts can't be so distant from society."

Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez tweeted his outrage (in Spanish): "If what the 'wolfpack' did wasn't group violence against a defenceless woman, then what do we understand by rape?"

What happened in the court?

The five, in their late 20s and originally from Seville, and the victim, from Madrid, were not present when the judgement was read out after a five-month trial, which was held behind closed doors to protect the woman's identity.

The men, who have been in custody since 2016, were also ordered to pay the woman €50,000 ($61,000; £43,500) in compensation.

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Media captionThe verdict was met with anger by some as protests erupted outside court

Prosecutors had asked for sentences of more than 20 years.

However, one judge had argued that the men should have been acquitted of all charges except stealing the victim's phone.

What was the case against them?

Videos of the late-night encounter between the men and the young woman showed how the five men had wandered the streets among other drunken revellers before two of them led her into a basement by the hand.

According to a police report, the men surrounded the woman in a small alcove, removed her clothes and had unprotected sex.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A picture of the accused is seen on screen in the courtroom

Some of them filmed the sexual act on their phones - there were seven videos, totalling 96 seconds. One of the men posted messages in a WhatsApp group celebrating what they had done and promising to share the recording.

According to the police report, the victim maintained a "passive or neutral" attitude throughout the scene, keeping her eyes closed at all times. Her phone was then stolen.

She was found in a reportedly distraught state by a couple in the street outside the scene of the attack. She told the trial she was still having psychological treatment to deal with trauma.

Some of the men were found to be in a video in which they apparently abused another woman, who seemed to be unconscious.

Spain's #MeToo moment

By James Badcock, Madrid

The "wolf pack" case has been Spain's #MeToo over the past two years, with thousands of supporters of the victim uniting under the slogan Yo te creo (I believe you).

The shocking nature of the group abuse, the youth of the victim and the obnoxious celebratory messages about their "conquest" on their WhatsApp chat combined to make the case fertile fodder for black-and-white public opinion.

That the two majority verdict judges have chosen to see shades of grey by not interpreting the criminals' acts as violent or intimidatory will fuel indignant criticism from feminist groups.

Several leading left-wing politicians have already questioned the verdict. The apparent certainty of an appeal hearing means the debate over whether the law protects women will continue.

Who are the men?

  • José Ángel Prenda, 28: considered the leader of the five, wrote a message in the WhatsApp group about the video showing them having sex with the woman. He had been sentenced to two years in prison in 2011 for theft with force
  • Antonio Manuel Guerrero: a Civil Guard police officer, born in 1989, is thought to have recorded six videos. He also admitted to stealing the victim's phone
  • Ángel Boza, 26: his criminal records include theft with force and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs
  • Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo, 29: a military officer, is thought to have recorded one video
  • Jesús Escudero, 27: a hairdresser

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