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Thousands rally to support disbarred Spanish judge

By Harold Heckle

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 12 2012 10:00 a.m. MST

People hold banners reading "Universal Justice here", "What a shame", among others, during a protest in support of judge Garzon in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. Thousands demonstrated Sunday in support of a Spanish judge who won global fame for taking on international human rights cases but who has now been barred from the bench after being convicted of ordering jailhouse wiretaps. Baltasar Garzon, 56, was unanimously convicted on Feb. 9 by a seven-judge panel at the Supreme Court, marking a spectacular fall from grace for the nation's most prominent jurist.

Andres Kudacki, Associated Press

MADRID — Thousands of people rallied Sunday in Spain's capital in support of the disbarred judge famous for taking on international human rights cases.

Baltasar Garzon, 56, was convicted Feb. 9 by the Supreme Court, marking a spectacular fall from grace for the nation's most prominent jurist. The seven-judge panel disbarred him for 11 years, effectively ending Garzon's career unless he can have their decision reversed on appeal.

A large square outside the main gates of the Supreme Court filled with around 10,000 people, many carrying placards and banners calling for justice for the former judge and chanting, "Garzon, friend, Spain is with you."

In Thursday's verdict, the court ruled that Garzon acted unlawfully in ordering jailhouse wiretaps of detainees talking to their lawyers, the court said, adding that his actions "these days are only found in totalitarian regimes."

The case was just one of three against Garzon, who is still awaiting a verdict in another trial on charges of initiating a probe in 2008 of rightist atrocities committed during and after the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939, even though the crimes were covered by a 1977 amnesty.

"Garzon, a top judge, is on trial for three different supposed crimes, something unheard of in Spanish legal history," Juan de la Torre, a 47-year-old chemist, said. "Yet, in each separate case it's the same seven judges trying him."

Some banners around the square featured photographs of the judges and said, "Who are the magnificent seven working for?" while others called for the court sentence to be revoked.

Garzon is best known internationally for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and trying to put him on trial in Madrid for crimes against humanity. He also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the Sept. 11 attacks and oversaw many rulings against Basque separatist group ETA and its political wing, Batasuna.

As a judge at Spain's National Court, Garzon took on cases using the principle of universal jurisdiction — the idea that some crimes are so heinous they can be prosecuted anywhere. He attempted to apply this legal doctrine to abuses committed in far-flung places like Rwanda and Tibet.

Garzon was a hero to many left-leaning human rights activists, but was viewed with suspicion by conservative sectors of Spanish society, including many senior judges who saw him as attention seeking and egotistical.

He was indicted and suspended in 2010, although the state prosecutor has maintained throughout that Garzon had committed no crime.

Garzon faces more legal woes over ties with a big Spanish bank that financed human rights seminars he oversaw while on sabbatical in New York in 2005 and 2006.

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