More protests are planned Friday in Spain over a court’s decision to grant bail to five men who were controversially convicted of sexual abuse of a teenage girl rather than more serious charges.
The case sparked outrage in April after the men were cleared of gang rape charges for the attack, which happened at the 2016 running of the bulls in Pamplona.
The case became known as “la manada,” or “the wolf pack,” after the name of a WhatsApp group on which the defendants and other friends chatted.
Thousands of people joined demonstrations in cities across Spain on Thursday night following the decision by the court in Northern Spain’s Navarre region to release the men, who are appealing their nine-year prison sentences, on bail.
The court deemed there was no flight risk and no risk of the men committing the crime again before their appeal is heard, a statement said. The men must pay bail of 6,000 euros (about $7,000) each, give up their passports and report regularly to their local court, among other conditions.
More than 3,000 people protested outside Pamplona’s city hall over the court’s decision, a spokesman for the Pamplona police told CNN.
Marches were also held in cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante. Demonstrators carried placards and shouted: “It is not sexual abuse. It is rape.”
The latest protests come weeks after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Pamplona and elsewhere to denounce the court’s verdict in the case.
The five men were sentenced in April to nine years for “a continued crime of sexual abuse.” Under Spanish law, the lesser offense of sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.
Amid the furor, the official spokesman for Spain’s government said the authorities would look again at the country’s laws on sexual crimes.
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.”
The court heard 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.
CNN’s Laura Perez Maestro reported from Madrid and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Lindsay Isaac also contributed to this report.