26 October 2007
BARCELONA – (AFP) – Spanish authorities are to probe a court decision to release a man who allegedly kicked and punched an Ecuadorian girl in a racist attack caught on security cameras and widely viewed on the Internet and television, judicial sources said Thursday.
Prosecutors Wednesday called for the re-arrest of Sergi Xavier Martin whose release was condemned by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who said it was “inexplicable” that a suspect in such a crime could be released.
The 21-year-old was arrested on October 19 in a town near the northeastern city of Barcelona but was later released after being provisionally charged with causing injury with racist motives.
Police believe he is the man seen on a security video striking the 16-year-old girl on a Barcelona subway train on October 7 while talking on a mobile telephone.
While no sound is broadcast in the video, Spanish media have reported that the man told the girl to go home while hitting her.
The decision by the General Council of the Judiciary, which oversees Spain’s courts, to open a probe into the release of the suspect came as the victim appeared before a Barcelona court to testify against her attacker.
After questioning the girl, the accused and a witness to the attack, the presiding judge late Thursday released Martin without bail but ordered him to report to police twice a day until the start of the trial.
He was also prohibited from having contact with the victim and from riding the subway line where the attack occurred.
The government of Ecuador, where the case has dominated headlines, is paying for the victim’s lawyer.
Espinosa, in Spain on other business, said the government of Ecuador wanted an “exemplary punishment” for the culprit of the attack.
“There is no possible exaggeration possible when a xenophobic and racist act is committed,” she told reporters.
The incident has thrown the spotlight on the problem of racism in Spain, which has experienced a rapid rise in the number of immigrants living within its borders, especially from its former colonies in Latin America.
“The case of the Ecuadorian girl who was assaulted on a train is not an isolated fact,” said the spokeswoman for anti-racism group SOS-Racisme, Isabel Martinez.
The group recorded 158 cases of xenophobia last year, or one every two days, in Spain’s affluent northeastern region of Catalonia of which 89 were cases of assaults.
More than half of all Latin Americans living in Spain, 57 percent, feel there is racism in the country against immigrants from outside the European Union, according to a recent poll published in Tribuna Latina magazine.
“The subway, trains and other forms of public transportation are not the only places where racism exists,” the president of Ecuadorian immigrant association Adeyade, Rytha Gortayre, told AFP.
The regional parliament of Catalonia voted to condemn the attack while some 300 people protested against racism outside of Barcelona’s city hall on Thursday night.
The number of immigrants living in Spain soared from around half a million in 1996 to 4.48 million as of the end of last year out of a total population of 45.12 million people, according to national statistics institute INE figures.
Moroccans make up the largest group of immigrants with some 576,000, followed by Romanians with 525,000 and then Ecuadorians with 421,000.
Subject: Spanish news