A Spanish court has upheld a controversial verdict which convicted five men of sexually abusing a teenage girl rather than more serious offenses they were accused of, such as rape, sparking calls for further protests across Spain on Wednesday.
The case – which became known as “the Wolf Pack,” after the name of a WhatsApp group on which the defendants and other friends chatted – caused outrage and multiple demonstrations across Spain in April after the men were cleared of gang rape charges. The attack occurred during the 2016 running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.
The new ruling is the latest in a series of developments that have unsettled many in Spain. April’s verdict said the five men had been sentenced to nine years for “a continued crime of sexual abuse,” a lesser offense under Spanish law than gang rape. The ruling shone a light on Spanish law, in which the offense of rape requires evidence of physical violence or intimidation.
On Wednesday, a regional court in northern Spain confirmed the nine-year prison sentences for the men. It said they could be appealed in the national supreme court.
Two of the five judges argued that the attackers used intimidation and their prison sentences should be raised to 14 years. But they were outvoted by the three other judges.
“In the opinion of the majority of the court, there is not sufficient proof of intimidation – needed to prove sexual assault or rape – given that the facts established by the sentence of the provincial court do not amount to intimidatory or threatening actions, whether express or tacit, on the part of the defendants,” the court wrote of its decision on Wednesday.
The decision to uphold April’s verdict has led a feminist collective to call for protests in multiple Spanish cities on Wednesday evening.
The convicted men – José Ángel Prenda, Antonio Manuel Guerrero, Ángel Boza, Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo and Jesús Escudero – recorded cellphone video of their encounter in July 2016 with the woman, then 18, during Pamplona’s famous San Fermín festival.
According to court documents, WhatsApp messages circulated to the group by one of the defendants included “us five are ****ing one girl,” “there is more than what I’m telling you,” “a ***ing amazing trip” and “there is video.”
During the trial, evidence was presented that the men, who denied wrongdoing, “pushed” the woman into a deserted hallway and told her to “shut up” before all engaging in sexual activity with her. She “adopted a passive, submissive stance” because she felt trapped and afraid, according to the sentencing document. One of the men took her phone from her bag before they left her there.
The ruling was met with protests in cities across Spain, where crowds were recorded chanting “Yo te creo” – “I believe you” – in reference to the victim of the assault. It also led to a governmental pledge to review its sex crimes law.
More protests erupted in June after a court decided to grant bail to the men, deeming there was no flight risk and no risk of the men committing the crime again before their appeal is heard, a statement said. According to Reuters, the men paid 6,000 euros (about $7,000) each for bail.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Twitter that Wednesday’s verdict created “insecurity among women.”
“Women are being told that if they don’t kick, if they don’t scream, if they don’t play life, they’re not being raped. We’re going to present a law that shields that,” the leader of the far-left Podemos Party told local media on Wednesday.
CNN’s Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.