[JURIST] Thousands gathered in cities across Spain Saturday to protest the impending trial of crusading National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges [JURIST report] he exceeded his jurisdictional authority with his investigation [JURIST report] into alleged war crimes committed during and after the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder] under the hardline regime of General Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder]. Protesters rallied [AFP report] in Madrid and many other cities, chanting in support of Garzon and holding up flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. Late last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a statement [press release] that sanctions against Garzon "risk undermining the EU’s collective credibility and effectiveness in seeking justice for current human rights crimes." Garzon is also facing charges of bribery over money he received for seminars conducted in the United States.
In March, the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] charged [order, PDF; in Spanish] Garzon with abuse of power based on Garzon's 2008 ordered exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain. The purpose of the order was to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law granting amnesty for political crimes committed under Franco. Earlier this month, Garzon appealed [JURIST report] the charges, alleging that the indictment issued by Spanish Supreme Court judge Luciano Varela was politically motivated [AFP report], compromised judicial independence and sought to impose a specific interpretation of the 1977 law. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].