Spain: adding insult to injury

Picture the scene – you’re walking down the street (a sunny one, as it happens, in Madrid) and are stopped by the police, who ask to see your identity papers. When they refuse to identify themselves with their ID numbers, you refuse to show them your papers. They arrest you and you go along quietly to the police station.

Once there, when you continue to ask for the ID of the police officer, he grabs you, slaps and kicks you and partially throttles you. None of the other police around intervene. You’re injured and have to be taken to the hospital, but when you get back you’re chucked in the cells for the night. The next morning, the officer that hit you informs you that he is charging you with assaulting a police officer.

This is what a man called Roque Zembrano Velasco alleges happened to him in Madrid in 2007. As it happens, he got decent legal representation (and witnesses to his arrest, when the policeman said he assaulted him – no-one saw any kind of assault). The charges were dropped and he was able to pursue a case against the officer that hit him. But his success in pursuing justice is rare, according to a new report that we’ve released today.

Amnesty has looked at the cases of torture and ill-treatment that we detailed in a report on Spain two years ago, and found that hardly any of the victims have been able to get justice. Since November 2007 only two open investigations into allegations of torture from the 11 reported by Amnesty have resulted in a conviction. Of the remaining nine cases, six were closed without ever reaching trial and two are still under investigation, one of which has now been open for more than seven years.

In one case, the trial found that torture had taken place but the accused officers were all acquitted on the grounds that it was not possible to identify which of them had actually committed the assault. So they all got off.

The UN is about to re-examine Spain’s record on torture and our report is timed to coincide with this. While there have been some positive developments – particularly in the police forces of the Catalan and Basque regional governments – the overall picture is not so sunny. Serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Spanish police are not being properly investigated. And while it’s thankfully only a relatively small number of people who suffer such ill-treatment, those who do are unable to access justice.

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