MADRID — Spain’s Supreme Court on Friday sentenced five men to 15 years in prison for raping a woman during the running of the bulls festival in the city of Pamplona three years ago, in a case that has been seen as a landmark for women’s rights in the country.
The decision overruled the verdicts of lower courts that had found the men guilty of the lesser charge of sexual abuse. That initial ruling, which included nine-year prison sentences for each of the men, led to mass protests and a debate in Spain over whether the judiciary was biased against women in cases of sexual assault.
The victim “at no point consented to the sexual acts carried out by the accused,” the Supreme Court said in Friday’s ruling. The men had sought to present the victim as a consenting sexual partner who suffered no lasting damage from the assault.
The court said that the woman, who was 18 at the time, had adopted “an attitude of submission” only because she was intimidated and because she could not escape from her attackers.
The trial of the five men — who labeled themselves a “manada,” a term often used to refer to a wolf pack — has provoked outrage among women’s groups.
Spain’s Socialist government and several politicians from other parties welcomed Friday’s ruling. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Twitter that “Spain continues to make progress in protecting the rights and freedoms of women — and will not stop. Because we believed her, we believe you. Because we want you alive, free, without fear.”
The assault took place in July 2016 during festivities in Pamplona that have become one of Spain’s main tourism attractions, as spectators watch participants try to dodge bulls hurtling down narrow streets on their way to the bull fighting ring.
The five men attacked the woman in the early hours of the morning, using their cellphones to film the assault in the lobby of a building.
In the initial verdict, a lower court found the men guilty of the “continuous sexual abuse” of the woman. Under Spanish law, sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.
One of the judges at the time even argued that the men should have been cleared of all charges except the theft of her cellphone.
Amid a nationwide outcry, the case was appealed by the public prosecutor, the victim and regional authorities.
Shortly after the Supreme Court released its ruling on Friday, the five men were detained by the police. After spending two years in prison, the men had been released in June 2018 and were ordered to surrender their passports and report to court three times a week while the case awaited the Supreme Court review.