Monday 21 October 2019

Release of "Wolf Pack" behind sexual assault at bull running festival sparks outcry

Demonstrators hold a banner in front of Pamplona's courthouse that reads
Demonstrators hold a banner in front of Pamplona's courthouse that reads "There is no one who judges our word - It is not abuse, it is aggression" - / AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEAANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images

Isla Binnie

Five men convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman at the Pamplona bull running festival in 2016 are due to be released on bail on Friday, re-igniting outrage over the case which has led to mass protests calling for tougher punishments of sex crimes in Spain.

The men, who joked about the assault in a Whatsapp group called "The Wolf Pack", were cleared of rape but convicted of the lesser crime of sexual abuse in April. Both the perpetrators and the victim are appealing the nine-year prison sentences, meaning their convictions are not final.

A court in the northern region of Navarra decided to free the men after two years in custody, while they await a final sentence, arguing that there was little chance of repeat offences. Two years tends to be the limit for provisional imprisonment in Spain.

A crowd filled Pamplona's central square on Thursday evening and walked through the streets with a banner proclaiming: "We women believe you" - a phrase that has become as widely recognised in Spain as the #MeToo label to denounce sexual harassment in the United States.

Protests were planned on Friday outside the justice ministry in Madrid and other cities.

Images of the five men, sporting the white t-shirts and red neck-scarves of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, have been splashed across newspapers and websites.

The convicts' loss of anonymity makes the risk of repeat offences "all but unthinkable", the court said in a statement.

The state prosecutor had originally asked for sentences of more than 20 years each for rape, which in Spain requires a plaintiff to present evidence of specific violence, such as being threatened with a knife or dealt physical blows.

All five, who are from the southern city of Seville and include a former policeman and a former soldier, were ordered to pay 6,000 euros bail, report to police three times a week and relinquish their passports.

New Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has pledged to provide specific training to judges in issues of gender equality, one of a raft of socially liberal projects for which he is likely to get parliamentary support despite heading a minority government.

The release of the five was met with concern across Spain's political spectrum. "I respect judicial decisions, but as a woman I am very worried to know (the Wolf Pack) are out in the street," Ines Arrimadas, a prominent deputy from centre-right party Ciudadanos, tweeted.

"Let's agree to revise our penal system to try to avoid these situations.


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