- 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- The case has sparked renewed concerns over Spain’s sexual offense laws, which critics say are outdated and fail to protect victims.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.
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric
- Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.
- Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
- Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life.
- After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks.
Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.
“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”
Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.
“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”
The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.
Reactions to Alvim’s Speech
It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination.
Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.”
But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.
President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.”
The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)
Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role
- Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
- Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State.
- Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
- While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled.
Appointment of Di Giovanni
Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.
Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media.
“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.
Milestone for Women in Catholic Church
Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant.
Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.
On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind.
“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”
Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.
“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”
See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)
Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane
- Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
- Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
- Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable.
- There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.
Backlash from the Plane Strike
Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board.
Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.
During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.
According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.
The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion.
“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”
A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.
“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.
Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.
One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.
They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.
“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.
Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration.
Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press.
Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.