Terrorism trial of ‘bar brawl’ youths begins
Amnesty demands terror charges against eight young men accused of attacking police officers be dropped
The trial of eight young men charged with terrorism offenses for their involvement in a bar brawl in which two police officers were injured began on Monday in Spain’s National Court.
The eight suspects from the town of Alsasua, in the Navarre region, have been charged under counter-terrorism legislation, with the prosecutor demanding a total of 375 years in prison, for an incident in 2016 in which they allegedly assaulted two off-duty police officers.
Human rights organization Amnesty International has called for the terrorism charges to be dropped and for the men to be tried according to “ordinary criminal procedure”.
According to the prosecutor, the young men became involved in an altercation with the police officers on the night of October 15, 2016, during a local festival. They “brutally” attacked the off-duty police officers, with their partners also becoming involved, and insulted them and threatened their lives. Two of the men were arrested that night, with the other six detained weeks later.
So far, the men have spent some 500 days in pretrial detention. Family and friends of the eight have organized a number of events calling for the men to be freed, the most recent being a demonstration in Pamplona last Saturday.
"This prosecution represents a blatant misuse of Spain’s counter-terrorism laws"
Eda Seyhan · Amnesty International campaigner on Counter-Terrorism
According to the prosecutor, the two police officers went to a bar with their partners, where they were surrounded by a group of up to 25 people, who insulted them and called on them to leave. Both officers were then punched and kicked as they left the bar, with the aggression continuing outside. Both police officers required medical treatment, it is alleged, while their partners went on to suffer psychological consequences. The prosecutor also refers to the “feeling of hate” in the town towards the police, going back to the 1990s and the armed struggle for independence on behalf of the Basque terrorist group, ETA.
Yet, Amnesty responded to the start of the trial calling for the terrorism charges against the men to be dropped and for the incident to be investigated in line with ordinary criminal procedure.
“This prosecution represents a blatant misuse of Spain’s counter-terrorism laws. While injuring people of course warrants criminal investigation, charges of terrorism are entirely inappropriate and must be dropped,” said Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International campaigner on Counter Terrorism.
Amnesty's criticism of counter-terrorism laws
Amnesty International has long criticized Spain’s broad counter-terrorism laws and warned against amendments in 2015 that expanded the definition of terrorism in Spain.
Only last week, a pro-independence activist was arrested in Catalonia on terrorism and rebellion charges accused of coordinating protests against the measures taken by the Spanish authorities against the Catalan independence movement. The arrest provoked widespread outrage in Catalonia although the terror charges were later dropped by Spain’s National Court.