PAMPLONA (CNN) – Tens of thousands of protesters returned to the streets of Pamplona in Spain on Saturday after men accused of the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman at the 2016 running of the bulls festival were convicted of the lesser crime of sexual abuse.
More than 30,000 people participated in the latest demonstration prompted by Thursday’s court decision, according to a local police spokesman.
Many carried signs and shouted slogans denouncing the decision by a court in northern Spain’s Navarre region to sentence the five men to nine years in prison for "a continued crime of sexual abuse," a lesser offense under Spanish law than the gang rape of which they were accused.
When the decision was announced, large protests erupted throughout the country, including in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Pamplona and Alicante.
Some protesters carried placards declaring, "It is not abuse, it is rape." Others shouted, "Yo te creo" — "I believe you" — in reference to the victim of the assault.
Prosecutors had sought 22 years for each defendant on the more serious charge, according to Spain’s El Mundo newspaper.
The case became known as "la manada," or "the wolf pack," after the name of a WhatsApp group on which the defendants and other friends chatted.
Both sides plan to appeal
The men — José Ángel Prenda, Antonio Manuel Guerrero, Ángel Boza, Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo and Jesús Escudero — recorded cell phone video of their encounter in July 2016 with the woman, then 18, during Pamplona’s famous San Fermín festival.
According to court documents, WhatsApp messages circulated to the group by one of the defendants included "us five are ****ing one girl," "there is more than what I’m telling you," "a ***ing amazing trip" and "there is video."
The court heard that the men, who denied wrongdoing, "pushed" the woman into a deserted hallway and told her to "shut up" before all engaging in sexual activity with her. She "adopted a passive, submissive stance" because she felt trapped and afraid, according to the sentencing document. One of the men took her phone from her bag before they left her there.
Under Spanish law, the lesser offense of sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.
On Friday, the official spokesman for Spain’s government said it was reviewing whether the law on sexual crimes "needs to be updated."
"The government has been, is and always will be with the victims," said the spokesman, Inigo Mendez de Vigo.
Navarre’s state prosecutor said the ruling by a three-judge panel would be appealed. Defense attorney Agustin Martinez Becerra, who represents four of the accused, has said they also would appeal the sentence.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.