By Sabela Ojea
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Supreme Court decides on Friday whether to uphold a ruling that cleared five young men of gang-raping a teenager at a bull-running festival, concluding a case that triggered mass protests and calls to change the law.
Both the woman, who was 18 at the time, and the men, who called themselves the “Wolf Pack,” appealed to Spain’s highest court after a regional court sentenced them to nine years each over the lesser charge of sexual abuse.
The public prosecutor says the teenager was raped in a doorway in the early hours of the morning at the 2016 San Fermin festival, and has called on the Supreme Court to sentence the men to 18 years in prison each.
Fragments of video from the men’s mobile phones taken at the scene were used as evidence in the trial, alongside biological tests. The original court heard they had shared videos of the incident in a WhatsApp group and joked about it shortly afterwards.
The teenager was found crying on a bench by a couple who rang the police when she said she had been attacked.
The defendants’ lawyers say sex was consensual.
The woman’s lawyer says she was raped and had not fought against the men due to the shock and fear she experienced.
A rape charge in Spain requires a plaintiff to present evidence of intimidation or specific violence such as being threatened with a knife or dealt physical blows.
“I BELIEVEYOU, SISTER”
Mass protests were organised throughout Spain after the regional court awarded the lesser sentence for sexual abuse. Thousands gathered bearing notices reading “I believe you sister” and chanting “It’s not abuse, it’s rape”.
Marisa Soleto, head of the Women’s Foundation pro-equality group, said she hoped the Supreme Court would acknowledge that rape occurred. “There is a social consensus on changing the law and Spain’s justice system must react to that concern … by showing it knows what crimes against women’s sexual freedom are,“ she added.
During the appeal process, the men were freed from jail on a legal technicality that no one can be held for more than two years without a definitive sentence, which further fuelled protests calling for tougher punishment of sex crimes.
The bull festival in Pamplona involves hundreds of people dressed in white shirts and red neckerchiefs running down narrow streets in front of fighting bulls before ending in the city’s bull-ring, where bullfights take place in the afternoon.
The festival is just as famous for the drinking and revelry on the sidelines, with huge street parties, processions and firework displays. The event draws thousands of tourists from all over the world.
(Writing by Sabela Ojea and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Paul Day and Andrew Cawthorne)