- A Barcelona court has acquitted five men of rape charges and instead sentenced them for lesser charges of sexual abuse after determining that their crimes did not fit the legal definition of rape.
- The court said that the 14-year-old victim was unconscious and therefore was not forced into sex through violence or intimidation.
- The case has sparked renewed concerns over Spain’s sexual offense laws, which critics say are outdated and fail to protect victims.
Men Acquitted of Rape
A court in Barcelona cleared five men of sexual assault charges on Thursday after determining that their crimes did not fit the legal definition of rape since their victim was unconscious.
Under Spanish law, a sex crime can only be classified as an assault or rape if the perpetrator uses violence or intimidation. Five of the six men accused of gang-raping a 14-year-old in Manresa have instead been convicted of a lesser charge of sexual abuse.
The Barcelona court sentenced the men to 10 to 12 years in prison and awarded the victim 12,000 euros ($13,400) in damages.
The sixth person was found not to have been involved in the assault and a seventh person, who was masturbating while watching, was cleared after being initially charged with failing to help the victim.
The attack was said to have happened at a party on October 29, 2016. The court was told the men were partying in an abandoned factory when the victim consumed drugs and alcohol and became unconscious.
They then took turns performing sexual acts on the teen, according to a statement published on the court’s website. In her July testimony, the victim said she remembered only part of that night, but said the main defendant, Bryan Andrés, told his friends they had “15 minutes each” to rape her. She also said he forced her to have sex while brandishing a gun, which turned out to be fake.
In a press release, the court said, “The sexual attack on the victim was extremely intense and especially denigrating, and in addition, it was produced on a minor who was in a helpless situation.”
However, the court ultimately said that the victim was “in a state of unconsciousness … without being able to determine and accept or oppose the sexual relations maintained with defendants, who could perform sexual acts without using any type of violence or intimidation.”
Because of this, the court said the case had to be classified as sexual abuse since “it has been proven that the victim, while the events took place … was in a state of unconsciousness.”
Ruling Draws Similarities to ‘Wolf Pack’ case
The decision reignited concerns over the way rape cases are prosecuted in Spain.
The Manresa case sparked protests similar to ones held in response to another ruling involving a group of five men dubbed “the Wolf Pack.” Those men were originally acquitted of rape and instead convicted of abuse. They were handed 9 years in prison, which sparked outrage across the nation.
However, after years of demonstrations demanding justice, Spain’s Supreme Court overturned the verdict in June and sentenced the men to 15 years in prison for rape.
That case was slightly different from the Manresa case in the sense that the controversy stemmed over the interpretation of the law and what constitutes intimidation. But regardless, both cases have thrust a spotlight on what many call a flaw in the legal system.
Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona even spoke out against the verdict on Twitter, calling it “outrageous.”
“I’m not a judge and I don’t know how many years in prison they deserve, but what I know is that this is not abuse, it is rape!” the mayor added.
Social media users have also been commenting on the case under the hashtag NoEsAbuseEsViolacion (It’s not abuse, it’s rape).
Lucía Avilés, the founder of an association of female judges, told the national news agency Efe that it was time to change the criminal code so that it was “understood that only a ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and that consent must be given in a free, conscious and responsible manner.”
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, said at a weekly news conference that the government would not comment on the ruling. However, she hinted that the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Germany’s Highest Court Finds Assisted Suicide Ban Unconstitutional
- Germany overturned a 2015 law that banned organized medically assisted suicides after a court ruled that it violated people’s rights to made decisions about their own lives.
- The ban was designed to stop those who carried out the practice as a form of reoccurring business, but it instead pushed terminally ill patients to travel outside the country for legal end of life assistance.
- While proponents celebrated the move, lawmakers behind the original ban fear it will pave the way toward the “normalization of suicide as a treatment option.”
Ban Deemed Unconstitutional
Germany’s highest court overturned a ban on organized medically assisted suicides Wednesday, allowing terminally ill patients to seek help in ending their lives without having to leave the country.
The court determined that the five-year-old ban infringes on people’s constitutional right to make decisions about their own lives. The ruling came in response to a complaint from a group of doctors, patients, and proponents who challenged the law, which made the “commercial promotion of suicide” punishable by a fine or up to three years in jail.
Euthanasia is a particularly sensitive topic in Germany because the last time it was part of public policy, it was used by Nazis to kill hundreds of thousands of people with illnesses and disabilities. The law made allowances for assisted suicide with “altruistic motives” and instead was aimed at stopping groups or individuals who were creating a form of business by carrying them out in exchange for money.
So in practice, it was essentially designed to end “recurring” assistance and some lawmakers hoped it would prevent the process from becoming socially acceptable. Legal uncertainty worsened in 2017 when a new ruling said patients in extremely exceptional circumstances could not be barred access to lethal drugs. Reports say that authorities largely ignored that ruling and doctors were too fearful to stumble into these gray areas.
The laws instead drove people to travel to places like Switzerland and the Netherlands to legally end their lives. Centers and professionals that previously carried out these procedures in an organized fashion were forced to stop out of concerns over jail sentences.
Dr. Matthaias Thöns, a physician who was a part of the complaint, said overturning the law would give doctors more power in rare end-of-life cases as well as in palliative care, which is care aimed at improving a terminally ill person’s quality of life. Under the old ban, he said he would worry about how much pain medication he could give patients because he didn’t want to be held criminally responsible in the event of a purposeful overdose.
Reactions to the Ruling
“The rule is not compatible with the basic law and thus void,” said Judge Andreas Vosskuhle, the president of the eight-member Federal Constitutional Court. The court added that the right to die “includes the freedom to take one’s life and to rely on the voluntary help of another person.”
In a surprising addition, the court explicitly stated that the freedom to choose one’s death “is guaranteed in all stages of a person’s existence.”
The decision was met with some pushback from lawmakers. Hermann Gröhe, a former health minister who helped create the original ban, told reporters that he believed the decision would pave the way toward the “normalization of suicide as a treatment option.”
Beatrix von Storch, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, said the decision would have wide-ranging consequences and would create “a cult of death.”
On the opposite end, proponents welcomed the victory while noting that the previous law went too far. Dr. Thöns also celebrated the move, however, he did warn that the practice needs to be tightly regulated.
As for now, the German government said it would examine the court’s decision before deciding how to draw up new rules to reflect the change. Meanwhile, other European countries are also grappling with debates over how to address the practice.
Politicians in Spain are currently talking over a new bill that could legalize end of life assistance in cases where a patient suffers unbearable physical or psychological pain, with no hope of improvement. Portugal also moved a step closer to legalizing euthanasia, passing a bill through parliament.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (NYT)((EuroNews)
Supreme Court Say Mexican Parents Cannot Sue Border Agent Who Shot Their Son
- The Supreme Court ruled against parents of a Mexican teenager who was fatally shot across the border, saying they couldn’t sue the border patrol agent that killed him.
- In 2010, 15-year-old Sergio Hernández Güereca ran back to the Mexico side of the border when the agent, Jesus Mesa Jr., shot him in the head. Mesa was on the U.S. side and Hernandez was on the Mexico side.
- The justices who voted to toss the lawsuit said that it should be up to Congress to authorize lawsuits against federal agents.
- Those opposed dissented, arguing that Mesa should be held responsible for his actions and the only reason he wasn’t was because Hernández was on Mexican soil when he was struck.
Mexican Teen Fatally Shot
The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the parents of a Mexican teenager who was killed in a cross-border shooting cannot sue the border patrol agent that struck him.
The case began in 2010 when Sergio Hernández Güereca, 15, was with his friends along the culvert that divides El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. The teenager’s family said that the group was playing a game where they dared each other to run up to the unmarked border, touch the U.S. side, and then return to the Mexico side. Alternatively, Jesus Mesa Jr., the border patrol agent, claimed that the kids were throwing rocks at him in an attempt to illegally cross the border.
During one of the runs across, Mesa detained one of the boys. Hernández was able to run away and make it back to the Mexico side, but Mesa drew his gun and fired shots, hitting the teenager in the face and killing him.
Following the boy’s death, Hernández’s family attempted to sue Mesa based on the 1971 case Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents. In this case, which dealt with an unconstitutional home search, the Supreme Court ruled that lawsuits could be filed against federal law enforcement officers for constitutional violations, even though no statute has authorized this.
Split Higher Court Ruling
The Supreme Court’s Tuesday decision was split, though it ultimately ruled that the family couldn’t sue Mesa in a 5-4 vote.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority, saying that the Hernández vs. Mesa case was rooted in a different context than the Bivens case, and thus the implied rights from the 1971 ruling should not be extended easily here.
“Unlike any previously recognized Bivens claim, a cross-border shooting claim has foreign relations and national security implications,” Alito wrote.
“In addition, Congress has been notably hesitant to create claims based on allegedly tortious conduct abroad,” Alito wrote. “Because of the distinctive characteristics of cross-border shooting claims, we refuse to extend Bivens into this new field.”
Alito, backed by Justices John G. Roberts Jr., Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh, said that it should be up to Congress to decide the scope of these matters, not the courts.
Additionally, Justices Thomas and Gorsuch called on the court to overrule the Bivens decision entirely in a concurring opinion.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. They argued that the lawsuit should not be thrown out and that the only reason Mesa wasn’t facing consequences was because Hernandez happened to be on the Mexico side when he was shot.
“The only salient difference here: the fortuity that the bullet happened to strike Hernández on the Mexican side of the embankment,” Ginsburg wrote. “But Hernández’s location at the precise moment the bullet landed should not matter one whit.”
“Mesa’s allegedly unwarranted deployment of deadly force occurred on United States soil,” she added. “It scarcely makes sense for a remedy trained on deterring rogue officer conduct to turn upon a happenstance subsequent to the conduct—a bullet landing in one half of a culvert, not the other.”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Vox) (NBC)
Trump Applauds Modi on Religious Freedom Amid Violent Protests in India
- Violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims have broken out in New Delhi over a controversial citizenship law.
- The protests, which have been described as the worst violence in the city for decades, have been ongoing since Sunday.
- According to reports, 13 people have died and 150 have been injured.
- In another part of New Delhi, President Trump praised Prime Minister Modi— who has long championed the law behind the violence— for his efforts on religious freedom.
Trump Applauds Modi
President Donald Trump applauded Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s record on religious freedom as Hindus and Muslims clashed violently just miles away over a controversial law championed by Modi.
The law, called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), grants citizenship to religious minorities who came to India illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
Those eligible for citizenship under the law include people from every major religion in South Asia except for Muslims.
Critics of CAA say it is anti-Muslim and accuse Modi and his Hindu nationalist party of openly discriminating against Muslims and trying to make them second-class citizens in India.
But Modi and his supporters have repeatedly argued that the law protects persecuted religious minorities who immigrate to India from those Muslim-majority countries.
Protests have been ongoing since CAA was passed by India’s Parliament in December. However, the most recent demonstrations in New Delhi have been described as the deadliest violence the capital city has seen in decades.
The protests first broke out Sunday and have been ongoing ever since. According to reports, 13 people have died and 150 have been injured in that time.
As the violence over the legislation espoused by Modi raged on nearby, Trump praised the prime minister’s efforts on religious freedom while speaking at a press conference.
“The prime minister was incredible in what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly,” the president said.
“We talked about religious liberty for a long period of time in front of a lot of people. And I had a very, very powerful answer,” he continued.
“And as far as Muslims are concerned, as he told me, I guess they have 200 million Muslims in India. And a fairly short while ago they had 14 million. And he said that they are very— working very closely with the Muslim community.”
When asked about the law behind the violence, Trump said that it was “up to India” to handle it.
It is not entirely clear how the violence started. Both groups blame each other for initiating the clashes and media reports are inconsistent.
What we do know is that protestors who oppose the bill held a sit-in over the weekend that blocked a major road.
On Sunday, Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Modi’s party, said that he did not want to cause a scene while Trump was visiting, but threatened to send a mob of his supporters to forcibly remove the demonstrators if the police failed to act once the president left.
From there, the reporting gets hazy. While some outlets said that both Muslims and Hindus both started throwing rocks at each other after Mishra threatened the protestors, others reported that Hindu mobs attacked the Muslim demonstrators first, throwing rocks and beating them.
Regardless of the initial confrontation, it is evident situation escalated rapidly. According to reports, both sides threw rocks at each other and at stores. Some people reportedly threw petrol bombs, while others set shops, cars, and other vehicles on fire.
In one viral video, a Hindu mob was seen climbing on and defacing a burning mosque before reportedly hoisting a flag of a Hindu god.
Another viral picture that circulated on social media showed a group of Hindu men beating a Muslim man with sticks and leaving him on the ground covered in blood.
Several journalists were also reportedly attacked.
Police responded with tear gas, grenades, and Molotov cocktails. However, multiple outlets also reported that the police mostly stood by the Hindus and did not do much to stop the violence.
Several Muslim protestors told reporters that police officers watched as they were attacked and did nothing. Some officers even encouraged the Hindu mobs to burn down Muslims’ property, according to some reports.
On Tuesday, officials banned large gatherings, shut down subway stations, and closed schools in the surrounding areas in an attempt to control the violence.