MADRID (Reuters) - State prosecutors said on Friday they would appeal a ruling that cleared five men of the gang rape of a teenager at a bull-running festival two years ago, a verdict that has prompted anguished soul-searching and angry protests across Spain.
The men, who had recorded video of the attack on their mobile phones and laughed about the incident afterwards on a WhatsApp group, were convicted with the lesser crime of sexual abuse and sentenced to nine years in jail.
Shaken by the scale of protests against the court ruling, the Spanish government said on Friday it would consider revamping the criminal code to ensure that sex crimes were punished more harshly.
Protests continued on Friday outside the court in Pamplona where the trial took place. Hundreds of people chanted “We want justice” and waved signs that read “No means No” and “Justice!” Tens of thousands took to the streets across Spain on Thursday.
The state prosecutor for the Spanish regional government of Navarra said it would appeal the court ruling in coming days on the grounds of infringement of the law, arguing that the attack carried out by the five men on an 18-year-old woman in the lobby of a residential building was rape and not sexual abuse.
Under Spanish law, to be charged with the more serious crime of sexual aggression or rape, there must be specific violence attached to the crime such as threatening with a knife or dealing physical blows to the victim.
Justice Minister Rafael Catala will consult with the legal advisory board to consider whether the classification of sexual crimes, dating from 1995, should be updated, government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said.
“I want to emphasise the engagement of this government with the victims, always with the victims. Gender-related violence is a scourge that we must end,” he told a weekly news conference.
Even before the court verdict, the so-called “Wolf Pack” case had already sparked widespread anger around Spain amid increased reports of sex attacks at the annual San Fermin bull-running festival and over the mistreatment of women in general.
It has also drawn international attention, coming at a time of heightened global concern over the sexual abuse of women in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
The scale of the protests over the verdict shows how much Spanish society has changed in recent decades, said Chelo Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the 8M feminist group. 8M is named after the date of a massive nationwide march that took place across Spain in support of women’s rights on March 8 this year.
“There is a change in awareness in Spanish society,” she said. “The problem lies with the institutions, which continue to be patriarchal and sexist.”
The Running of the Bulls in San Fermin every July is one of Spain’s most popular summer fiestas, drawing thousands of tourists from around the world to the northern city of Pamplona.
Hundreds of people run down narrow streets in front of fighting bulls every morning of the nine-day event but the festival is just as famous for the revelry on the sidelines with huge wine-fuelled street parties, firework displays and processions.
Editing by Gareth Jones