Spain's most famous judge has filed suit in a European court against his indictment in Madrid for allegedly overstepping his jurisdiction by probing Spanish civil war atrocities, a human rights group said Friday.
London-based Interights filed the suit Thursday on behalf of Judge Baltasar Garzon before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Garzon is famous around the world for cross-border justice cases in which he went after people like Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden.
But he was suspended from the National Court last year over what is arguably Spain's own biggest unresolved legal case.
He was indicted by the Supreme Court on charges he knowingly violated his jurisdiction by investigating in 2008 the execution or disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of supporters of Gen. Francisco Franco during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War or in the early years of the Franco dictatorship.
Until Garzon acted, there had been no official probe of such atrocities, which were covered by an amnesty granted by Spain's Parliament in 1977, two years after Franco died, as the country moved toward reconciliation.
Garzon denies any wrongdoing and says his probe, which he eventually and reluctantly dropped, was legitimate.
In the suit filed with the European court, Interights reiterates Garzon's argument that these were crimes against humanity and there is now a case body of international law that says such crimes have no statute of limitations and cannot be covered by amnesty, Interights spokeswoman Sarah Harrington said from London.
The suit also argues that Garzon should not be punished just because of the way he has interpreted laws.
"Judges should not be punished for reasoned interpretation of the law. We see this as a threat to the independence of the judiciary. The potential chilling effect on other judges when they come to determine legally or politically controversial cases is obvious, and a serious threat to the rule of law," Harrington said.
No date has been set for a trial of Garzon, who has since taken up a temporary job at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The civil war case has been held up because Garzon's legal team has challenged the impartiality of most of the seven judges who would oversee his trial.
Harrington said the Strasbourg court will probably take at least a year to issue a ruling, which she said would be binding for Spain.
If Garzon were to be convicted _ he would not face jail time but a maximum of 20 years' removal from his job _ a decision in his favor from Strasbourg should in theory overturn the conviction, Harrington said.