Two women face three years in jail for joining sports center protest

Galicia court hands down “disproportionate” sentence after applying tough labor law The gym instructors were attending a demonstration over pay and conditions

Ana Outerelo and Tamara Vidal in Pontevedra.
Ana Outerelo and Tamara Vidal in Pontevedra.LALO R. VILLAR

Two women who took part in a protest over pay and conditions for sports center employees in Galicia are facing a three-year jail term.

The case dates to February 8, 2010, when gym instructors Ana Outerela and Tamara Vidal took part in a protest in Pontevedra, Galicia, as part of a series of activities staged by labor unions to support their demands for a collective pay and conditions deal with the regional government.

On that day, Outerela and Vidal joined around 50 other people who had set up a picket at the Porto Muiños municipal swimming pool in the city.

During the protest, which both women admit to attending, colorant and soap were thrown into the pool, which the two say they had nothing to do with.

At the original hearing, no evidence was provided to show that either of the two women were involved in any wrongdoing. During their testimony, Outerela and Vidal said there were two groups present at the protest, and that theirs remained in the reception area, although they were later caught up in a crush and were swept past the pool area through to the rear of the sports center, leaving the building through an emergency exit into the car park.

The judge handed down a six-month sentence, which in the absence of any previous convictions would likely have been suspended. But public prosecutors appealed against what they saw as the leniency of the sentence, insisting that the two women were guilty under a 1995 law forbidding “group coercion” during picketing, which carries a minimum three-year sentence. After studying the public prosecutors’ appeal, on April 21 of this year, the provincial court in Pontevedra handed down a three-year jail term.

Prosecutors insisted the two women were guilty under a 1995 law forbidding “group coercion” during picketing

Guillermo Presa, Vidal’s lawyer, says the two women are being used to set an example to labor unions: “Aside from being a disproportionate sentence, the issue here is the decision to apply this particular law. There are many ways to interpret what happened that day and many other articles of the criminal code could have been invoked, producing a different sentence.”

There was an immediate public outcry in Pontevedra when the sentence was made public. More than 12,000 local people have signed a petition calling for the sentence to be overturned, an initiative backed by the mayor of Pontevedra, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, as well as the central government’s representative in Pontevedra, Rafael Louzán. A campaign on social network Change.org has already raised almost 70,000 signatures nationwide.

Outerela and Vidal, who have both worked for the local government for 15 years, are running out of legal options, as the ruling is final and does not admit appeals. Outerela, who is now three months pregnant, has appealed to a higher court on the grounds of unconstitutionality, and Vidal has called for a motion for dismissal. “The whole thing is unreal,” says Outerela. “I feel like a criminal, which I am not. But we cannot let this get us down. This has to be sorted out and common sense must prevail.”

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