Spain’s Franco-era torture victim to testify in court for first time | News | Al Jazeera

For the first time since Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, a victim who says he was tortured by the dictator’s regime will testify before a Spanish court in a hearing that opens on Friday.

Julio Pacheco Yepes was 19 years old when he was arrested in Madrid in August 1975 for belonging to a left-wing underground movement that opposed the regime.

His detention happened just three months before the death of Franco, who had ruled Spain with an iron fist since the end of the country’s 1936-39 civil war.

Pacheco Yepes said he was tortured for several days at police headquarters in the city’s Puerta del Sol Square before being jailed for “terrorism”.

Nearly 50 years later, the 67-year-old pensioner filed a lawsuit against his four alleged torturers, among them former police commissioner Jose Manuel Villarejo, who recently won notoriety for spying on political and business personalities.

The case was filed in February and in May, judge Ana Maria Iguacel decided to admit it on grounds it contained “possible” evidence of “crimes against humanity and torture”.

Pacheco Yepes told AFP he was “a bit nervous” as he arrived at a Madrid court for the hearing, with Iguacel set to question Pacheco Yepes about his experience.

About 30 supporters gathered outside the court, holding up a large banner that read: “The victims of Franco demand justice.”

Iguacel also indicated she intends to summon the alleged torturers for questioning and has requested documents from the police and the National Archives.

Once her investigation is finished, Iguacel will have to decide whether to dismiss the case or send it to trial.

Although Friday’s hearing is just a first step, for associations representing victims of the Franco regime, it is a victory since all other earlier efforts to file suit have been dismissed.

“It is an important milestone,” Pacheco Yepes told AFP at his home in Vallecas, a working-class district of southeastern Madrid.

‘Wall of impunity’

The former printer hopes his testimony will “open a chink in the wall of impunity” and will pave the way for courts to be “more open to future lawsuits”.

Until now, Spanish courts have rejected lawsuits filed by Franco-era victims, arguing that they fell under an amnesty law passed in 1977 during the transition to democracy, or that the time limit for filing criminal charges had passed.

The United Nations has urged Spain to revoke the amnesty law, which was passed two years after Franco’s death and prevents the prosecution not only of offences committed by political opponents of the regime but also those carried out by “civil servants and public order agents” such as police.

Many Franco-era torturers have died without ever standing trial, such as policeman Juan Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, who died in 2020.

His nickname was “Billy el Nino” or “Billy the Kid” for his habit of spinning a gun around his finger as he beat his victims.

One of the people who filed a lawsuit against him was 66-year-old Rosa Maria Garcia Alcon, Pacheco Yepes’s wife, but her lawsuit was rejected.

She was arrested at the same time as Pacheco Yepes in August 1975. He was her boyfriend at the time.

Garcia Alcon will also testify on Friday, but as a witness. She says one of the ways the police tortured him was to force him to watch them hurting her.

Faced with legal obstacles in Spain, victims’ groups turned to Argentina where magistrate Maria Servini in 2010 invoked the principle of “universal justice” to open a continuing probe into genocide and crimes against humanity during Spain’s civil war and the ensuing dictatorship.

As part of her probe, Servini in 2014 issued 20 international arrest warrants for former Franco regime officials, among them ministers, judges and police officers, but Madrid refused to cooperate.

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