Spain judicial panel suspends judge Garzon over Franco probe

Spain judicial panel suspends judge Garzon over Franco probe

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[JURIST] The Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] voted unanimously Friday to suspend National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. The CGPJ, ruling 18-0 with three abstentions, was required to hand down the suspension once Garzon's final appeal to avoid trial was rejected [El Pais reports, in Spanish] on Wednesday.

No trial date [AFP report] has been set. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years. Garzon is also facing charges of bribery over money he received for seminars conducted in the US.

Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. 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. Garzon appealed [JURIST report] the charges in April, 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].