Thousands of people have marched in Spain to support judge Baltasar Garzon, accused of exceeding his powers by investigating atrocities committed under Franco’s regime.
He may face trial after a magistrate ruled that he acted without jurisdiction.
Filmmaker Pedro Almodovar joined demonstrators in Madrid, as did international campaigners outraged at the case.
“Governments have a judicial duty to take care of the victims”, said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. “Why should the victims of Franco’s regime have less rights than those of Pinochet’s?”
Twelve years ago Judge Garzon leapt to prominence when he issued an international warrant for the former Chilean dictator Pinochet’s arrest.
His inquiry into atrocities committed during the Spanish civil war of the 1930s, and into Franco’s four-decade long regime that followed, has been shelved.
A Supreme Court magistrate has ruled that Garzon ignored an amnesty covering civil war crimes, and knew that he had no jurisdiction.
Hundreds of Franco supporters protested against the judge. They accuse Garzon, who has sought to exhume civil war graves, of being politically motivated.
“Garzon is dedicated to trying to change history and trying to blame us for what happened and trying to dig up the dead,” said Martin Ynestrillas of Falang Espana. “Not to find them and return them to their families, but to change the story of what happened.”
The protests were largely peaceful despite one or two heated exchanges.
But they illustrate how divisive a figure judge Garzon has become in Spain by trying to lift the lid on the past.