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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Tens of thousands protest in Spain after gang rape acquittal

Five men were accused of raping a woman and sentenced to nine years

Thousands of people filled the Plaza del Castillo square during a protest in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP/Alvaro Barrientos)
Thousands of people filled the Plaza del Castillo square during a protest in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP/Alvaro Barrientos)

Tens of thousands of people have marched across Spain to protest against the acquittal of five men accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman at Pamplona’s bull-running festival.

The protests erupted after a court on Thursday found the men guilty of the lesser offense of sexual abuse, rather than convicting them of rape.

The five men were sentenced to nine years. The victim is appealing, lawyers said.

The case, which has shocked the country, became known as “la manada”, or “the wolf pack”, after a WhatsApp messaging group in which the men and their friends spoke to each other.

Local police estimated between 32,000 and 35,000 people joined the march in Pamplona on Saturday, the third consecutive day of protests. Many carried placards with the slogan “it’s not sexual abuse, it’s rape”.

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Read more:

Women take to the streets of Madrid in their thousands to protest violence

Running with the bulls in Pamplona - in pictures

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Crowds of mainly women have filled the streets in other Spanish cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante, while many also took to social media to share their experiences of abuse using the hashtag #cuentalo, which means “tell it” in Spanish.

More than 1.2 million people have signed an online petition calling for the disqualification of the judges who passed the sentence.

According to Spain's El Mundo newspaper, prosecutors have sought 22 years for each defendant on the more serious charge.

The protests prompted the Spanish government to announce that it will consider reforming the country’s rape laws.

The five men, aged 27 to 29, were accused of raping the woman at the entrance to an apartment during Pamplona’s famous San Fermin bull-running festival on July 7, 2016.

The men, from Seville, allegedly filmed the attack with their phones and then laughed about it with their friends on their WhatsApp group.

Under Spain's criminal code, evidence of violence or intimidation must exist for the offence of rape to be proved.

The judges said in the ruling: “"It is indisputable that the plaintiff suddenly found herself in a narrow and hidden place, surrounded by five older, thick-bodied males who left her overwhelmed and unresponsive."

"The videos show the plaintiff surrounded and stuck against the wall by two of the accused... she has an absent grimace, and keeps her eyes closed.”

Ana Botin, the head of Spanish bank Santander, said on Twitter that the ruling was "a step back for women's security".

Adriana Lastra, a top official with Spain's main opposition Socialist party, said the court ruling was "disgraceful".

"It's the product of a patriarchal and macho culture," AFP quoted her as saying.

An order of Carmelite nuns in the Hondarribia monastery in the Basque country also condemned the court judgement on Facebook.

"We live cloistered away, wearing a habit that reaches down to our ankles, we don't go out in the evening, we don't go to parties, we don't drink alcohol and we've undertaken a vow of chastity," the nuns said.

"And because that's our free choice, we will defend with all the means at our disposal... the right of all woman to FREELY do the opposite, without them being judged, raped, threatened, killed or humiliated," they wrote.

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