Spanish judge hears allegations of Franco-era police torture in a case rights groups say is a 1st

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge heard evidence Friday of alleged torture during the rule of the country's late dictator Francisco Franco, in what rights groups said was the first case of its kind to be accepted for legal review.

The hearing at a Madrid courthouse involved allegations against five former police officers. The lead witness, Julio Pacheco, told reporters outside that he had recounted to a judge how he was tortured by police in 1975, when he was a 19-year-old student.

Pacheco said he hoped his testimony was a step toward “starting to break down the wall of silence and impunity” regarding abuses during Franco’s rule. His wife also testified.

Previously, judges have refused to hear such cases because of a 1977 amnesty law that blocked the prosecution of Franco-era crimes. The law was part of Spain’s effort to put that period behind it and strengthen its fledgling democracy following Franco's death two years earlier.

With victims and human rights groups arguing that torture and other serious crimes should not go unpunished, the center-left Socialist government in power last year opened the door to possible prosecutions for crimes committed under the dictatorship.

The Democratic Memory Law established procedures to investigate human rights violations between the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the dictatorship’s collapse after Franco’s death in 1975.

Other complaints have been filed with Spanish courts, but Pacheco’s was the first to be heard by a judge, according to right groups supporting the legal action.

Pacheco's complaint names five police officers who allegedly were present when he was being tortured. Paloma Garcia of Amnesty International's Spanish branch, which is one of the groups supporting the action, said investigators haven't been able to locate some of the officers and weren't sure whether the named men were still alive.

The judge will later decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

The Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which ruled from 2018 until a recent general election, took several high-profile actions on Franco-era issues. They included making the central government responsible for the recovery from mass graves of the bodies of tens of thousands of people who went missing during the Spanish Civil War and Franco's dictatorship.