Madrid (AFP) – Protests were planned across Spain on Friday, after a court ordered the release on bail of five men sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing a young woman at Pamplona’s bull-running festival.
The men, who called themselves “The Pack” in a WhatsApp messaging group, had been accused of raping a woman, then 18, on July 7, 2016, at the start of the week-long San Fermin festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
All five, aged between 27 and 29, were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault, which includes rape, as the court did not consider that the victim had been subjected to intimidation or violence, sparking nationwide protests to demand the law be changed.
They appealed their jail terms and a Pamplona court on Thursday ordered the five be released on bail of 6,000 euros ($7,000) pending the outcome of the appeal, according to Spanish media reports.
Women’s rights groups immediately took to social media to call for protests on Thursday night with the slogan: “If the pack hits the streets, we will as well.”
And Friday’s headlines also reflected the national mood, with Catalan daily La Vanguardia leading on “The Pack’s court intensifies the anger by freeing them” while the Conservative ABC had: “Anger and disbelief over the release of The Pack”.
Feminist groups also called for protests on Friday evening in Madrid, Valencia and Seville — where the five men live — as well as in Saragossa, Grenada and elsewhere.
– ‘Scoundrel rapists’ –
Following Thursday’s decision, protesters hit the streets in Pamplona with similar rallies in Barcelona and three major Basque cities: Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian.
“It is shameful, these scoundrel rapists get away so easily. It seems they want to release them so they are ready to start again on July 7,” said Carmen Roman, a 66-year-old protester in Barcelona referring to the upcoming running of the bulls festival.
In their decision published Friday, the Navarre court said the five had been allowed out on bail because the social pressure on them makes it “practically unthinkable” they would risk re-offending.
The men, who have already spent two years behind bars, will remain under judicial monitoring. They have had their passports withdrawn and are banned from leaving the country.
They are also banned from travelling to Madrid where the victim lives.
Of the three judges, one had wanted to keep the five men locked up.
One of the men is a policeman with the Guardia Civil — who is currently suspended — and another was once in the army. Several are “ultras” — hardcore fans of FC Sevilla.
The fact that the men videoed the attack on their smartphones and bragged about it within their WhatsApp group added to the outrage over the case.
– Online petition for change –
The mayor of Pamplona, Joseba Asiron, said Friday his office would appeal against the decision to release them, saying there was “a growing distance… between society itself and certain decisions taken by the courts”.
An online petition calling for the five to be kept behind bars had garnered more than 500,000 names by midday Friday.
New socialist Justice Minister Dolores Delgado has not commented on the court decision, speaking only of a need to “change mentalities”.
The first step announced by the government of Pedro Sanchez, who took office earlier this month at the head of a mostly-female cabinet including 11 women, was to train magistrates to raise awareness about violence against women.