Originally published in Público by: Alejandro Torrus
6,621 cases of torture or ill-treatment by police have been reported in the last 10 years in Spain. Experts suggest that the state take steps to prevent or investigate such malpractices. Prisoners who complain of torture recount their experiences.
Augustine Toranzo publicly denounced being tortured by 2 policemen during the 2011 eviction of a squat in Seville. The Justice ordered him to pay one thousand euros to an agent and 200 euros to another for slander. The European Court of Human Rights is studying his case. Antonio Molina, 67 year old retiree with a heart condition, has been operated on one lung, and has dyspnea with minimal exertion was sentenced just a few weeks ago to pay 350 euros to 3 police officers and was given 6 months in prison for “undermining the authority.” Molina says he was beaten both on the street and in the police station. An expert report corroborated his version. The judge ruled in favor of the agents.
According to Amnesty International, Spain tortures. And not just a little. The practice of torture is not systematic but it is not only isolated cases either. In fact, in just the last 10 years the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has collected 6,621 complaints of ill-treatment or torture committed by the police. The figure contrasts with the low number of convictions handed down by the courts. Specifically 752, mostly for misdemeanors and not crimes. In addition, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Spain in up to 6 cases for not sufficiently investigating these allegations and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture reprimanded the Spanish authorities for failing to investigate allegations of ill-treatment.
“The practice of torture is an everyday reality in Spain. Day after day we receive information from people all who have suffered abuse and torture. From stress positions, to pushups, rape or physical assault,” complains Jorge del Cura, spokesman for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture
His opinion is shared by Pau Perez, adviser to the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture and expert in national and international courts for victims of abuse and torture, who feels that the extent of the problem in Spain is not limited to a few policemen who are above the law.
“There is a torturous system that requires impunity. You need someone who authorizes it, someone who designs it, someone who conceals it and someone who provides amnesty,” said Pau Perez, who claims that every police force in Spain has elite units formed for this purpose.
When we talk about torture, people think of Franco. This exists not just in 2015. The intimidating torture of immigrants, the torture of militant social movements is physical but plays more with fear, threats, terror. Fear of pain is more devastating than the pain,” said Perez, who claims that the cases documented in Basque Country on incommunicado detention are different.
“It’s trained torture, cold, of role-playings a minuet in agreement with the director of the orchestra, playing with confusion, humiliation and shame, the pain that confuses more than breaks, which breaks awareness and orientation rather than the bones, which interrogates attacking the profound identity of the person,” he says.
The Supreme Court judge, Joaquín Giménez does not believe, as Perez does that there are “elite units specialized in torture” but says it is “obvious that police are not dedicated to changing these practices if the environment provides a certain impunity. This has to end radically and, somehow, the sentences that have been passed by both the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights have served as wakeup call that we have a problem.”
The Justice has already conveyed the message that torture as part of an investigation of a terrorist offense are not free, there is no impunity,” said Gimenez, who urges judges to “commit to care for the rights of detainees and of the police to be open, to collaborate with the Justice and to not protect agents who have made bad practices.”
The Case of Mikel Soto
The Constitutional Court, however, has not yet reached all cases. Nor can it be said that all of the complaints have been investigated with diligence. The complaint lodged by Mikel Soto, who was arrested with his partner in 2002 for alleged collaboration with an armed gang should be in one of the drawers of the Court’s headquarters. Soto was charged as a suspect in the murder of UPN, José Javier Múgica. He was held incommunicado during the time of his detention. His partner confessed to participating in the murder of the councilor although it was subsequently proven they were not involved.
“I suffered quite serious torture by the unit in charge of conducting it. They were professionals. They didn’t seem like a gang of fools. They knew what they were doing,” complains Mikel Soto, who after two days of questioning had to be rushed to a hospital.
Soto spent two years in jail for murder but after the appearance of some papers in France that disassociated him from the attack on Mujica, Soto was acquitted of the murder charges and sentenced to two years for attempted collaboration with an armed group. That is, according to the Justice, Soto tried to collaborate with ETA, but failed.
“It is difficult to explain the torture I suffered. I counted the blows they gave me in the back of the head, the physical exertion, the gun that they in my mouth … but it’s difficult to explain everything that happened at the time. You have a gun in your mouth, while one policeman steps on your heels and another insults you,” complains Soto.
The report itself on the state of human rights was commissioned by the Government of Mariano Rajoy to a committee of experts appointed by the Presidency, and who had access to this journal, noted that “the research indicates that cases of abuse are not isolated cases, but symptoms of structural deficiencies.” Therefore, the committee of experts recommended “to improve safeguards for detainees subjected to solitary confinement” with measures such as “the introduction of closed-circuit video cameras in all areas of police stations.”
Unai Romano’s Complaint
With these cameras claim the expert committee of the Government, the State would have saved itself in cases like that of Unai Romano. His face completely deformed and purple, served to paper the walls of Basque area and as a symbol of the fight against torture. Romano was arrested in September 2001 and accused of belonging to an armed group. After spending a few days of interrogation he had to be taken to Juan Carlos I hospital. He complained of being tortured by the State and his case was filed. Now the Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos studies his case.
“Upon arrival at Madrid I was put in a dungeon and was given a set of rules such as don’t look them in the eye and then the interrogation began. When they didn’t like my response, they hit me in the head. This lasted for hours. Questions, Answer, Beatings. Every time with increasing intensity. They hit me on the top or in the back of the head. I was in a corner against the wall. During the beatings I was threatened. “We will put the bag on you, the electrodes, we will do the bath…. ” recalls Romano in his conversation with Público.
While they were beating him, Romano points out that the torture reached a psychological level. “They said they had arrested my mother. Later I was told my mother had died,” he says. After two days of interrogation, Romano began to suffer the effects of the beatings, “I felt like my head was swollen, my forehead, I lost vision due to the swelling around my eyelids. Everything burned. Then I decided I had to get out of there. I started biting my wrists so they would take me to the coroner.”.
At trial over the alleged torture Romano suffered, the Guardia Civil argued that the cerebral edema suffered by the inmate was caused by Unai himself, by hitting his head on the wall. The coroner who attended Romano during his stay with units of the Guardia Civil told the coroner that in his opinion, the bulky hematomas were the result of self-injury and did not attribute them to a beating, or repeated blows to the head as denounced by the detainee.
However, doctor Francisco Etxeberria, who these days is looking for the bones of Miguel de Cervantes, made another medical report which showed that the existence of hematomas distributed throughout his head could not have been caused by Unai himself. “My report says Unai was beaten beyond the official version. Unai suffered many blows as is seen clearly in the hospital scan,” Etxeberría told Carne Cruda.
“Unai Romano could have died that day,” stated the coroner, pointing out “to be sure” that any foreign coroner who had studied the case of Romano would be more in agreement with his report than with the report submitted by the prison coroner.
“They say that a tortured individual is one who already has a judgment for proving torture. If so I have seen many people tortured. I’ve had friends, family, students, teachers who have been tortured. This is a question that unless one wants to look the other way, exists. It is a fact that has been proven in court,” explains Etxeberria.
The Supreme Court Judge, Joaquín Giménez, points out that in cases of alleged complaints, ETA members there could “be some sort of strategy to systematically claim torture while at the same time, torture really exists. We must distinguish the good from the bad and that’s why we need to conduct a serious and thorough investigation,” adds Giménez recalling that “there is also torture or ill-treatment in other cases that are not investigating a terrorist offense.”
50% of complaints come from social movements
In this regard, the expert says Pau Pérez says that allegations of mistreatment or torture happen outside of environments of police station detention, 50% of them occurred against activists of social movements, nearly 40% against immigrants and only 10% are related to the “conflict in the Basque Country”.
The Giménez himself was rapporteur for a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the sentence of one year in prison and eight years of disqualification imposed on two police officers for the crime of torture committed against a Cuban immigrant who was arrested for stealing a wallet from a woman in a shopping center in Alboraia (Valencia) in 2008. Pau Pérez’s complaint, however, is that it’s not always so, and that many police officers use false allegations of assault or resistance to authority as a deterrent strategy against allegations of mistreatment.
“I have no doubt that the General Council of the Judiciary has a perfect record of the use of false accusations of assault and resisting arrest used as a deterrent strategy against allegations of ill-treatment and the passive tolerance of many judges” complains Perez.
No institution responsible for victims
For Victor Madrigal, secretary general of the International Council for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, the most obvious evidence that Spain has a problem with torture or ill-treatment by police is that there is no Spanish institution that is dedicated to ensuring reparations to victims of torture or ill-treatment.
“I find it hard to believe that in Spain there is no center because there are no torture victims. I think it has more to do with a lack of recognition of the rights of those victims,” Madrigal explained to Público.
“With the documentation provided by Amnesty International and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture I am inclined to think that in Spain, there is a problem that should be recognized. Both from the courts and from the public authorities” complained Madrigal, who remembers that for a State to call itself fully democratic it should defend the principle of legality, by derivation, “it establishes an absolute prohibition of torture. Only a State which investigates allegations of torture can be called truly democratic diligently” he judged.