‘Hunt them down’: MH17 families hope for justice

Evert van Zijtveld, 67, poses on November 9, 2022 in Vleuten during an interview with AFP ahead of the verdict in the trial of four suspects accused of being involved in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014. (Photo by John THYS / AFP)



Each night before bedtime in the small Dutch town of Vleuten, Evert van Zijtveld lights two candles at a concrete shrine next to his front door to remember his murdered children.

Eight years and four months ago his daughter Frederique, 19, and son Robert-Jan, 18, died with 296 others when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot from the sky over war-torn Ukraine.

Now the 67-year-old is hoping for justice and closure in a high-security Dutch courtroom on Thursday, where judges will deliver their verdicts on four suspects who remain at large.

“Those who are responsible for downing MH17 should be sent to prison. If they are guilty, the international community should hunt them down,” Van Zijtveld told AFP in an interview.

For Van Zijtveld and others who lost loved ones when the Boeing 777 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by what prosecutors say was a Russian-supplied missile, the loss is still raw years later.

Large photographs of Frederique and Robert-Jan adorn the home of Van Zijtveld and his wife Grace, who also lost her own mother Neeltje Voorham, 77, and stepfather Jan van der Steen, 71, in the disaster.

One picture shows a smiling Van Zijtveld cuddling his daughter, which in a tragic irony was taken in the departures lounge at Schiphol airport when Frederique was departing on another trip.

‘Search for justice’

“Angry is not the right word,” sighed Van Zijtveld, a tall and dapper Dutchman who has earned widespread respect through his work in helping other relatives of victims deal with their grief, and setting up a fund for under-privileged children.

“I am just very sad. My children and my parents-in-law were taking a holiday in the eastern part of the world. They were hit by a BUK. They were murdered. They were wonderful people.”

Prosecutors say the four suspects — three Russians and a Ukrainian — played a key role in supplying the missile and have demanded life sentences if the men are convicted.

About an hour’s drive to the east, in the village of Renkum, Sander Essers says he often listens to music to help him deal with his grief.

The 72-year-old lost his brother Peter, sister-in-law Jolette Nuesink and their two children Emma, 20 and Valentijn, 17.

“Some evenings I take some time to listen to my brother’s favourite Brazilian music, to think about him and his family and to cry,” Essers told AFP.

“For me, the verdict will be the partial end for the search for justice for my dear family… I hope the legal proof will be sufficient to come to a verdict.”

‘I cannot forgive’

Both Van Zijtveld and Essers say the verdict, whatever the judges decide, will be a milestone after more than eight years of heartache, often under the intense glare of the media.

Many bereaved relatives testified during the trial which started in March 2020, offering heartbreaking accounts of the impact from the loss of their loved ones.

“This is a kind of a closure, this phase. It’s too heavy to start it all over again,” Van Zijtveld said.

He had tough words for the four accused, Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

“They are real cowards” for not coming to court, he said, his eyes for the first time flashing with anger.

Essers urged those involved in the downing of MH17 to come clean, saying there was no chance of forgiveness until they spoke.

“Open up, if you ever want to be at peace with yourself and to be able to look at yourself with at least some feeling of dignity,” he said when asked what his message was to those involved.

But Van Zijtveld took a harder line.

“I cannot accept it,” he said.

“My children and parents-in-law were murdered. I cannot forgive them. I can never do that.”

Troops Rescue Kidnap Victims, Recover Arms, Motorcycles In Zamfara

File photo of troops on a patrol.


Troops of Operation Forest Sanity have rescued some kidnap victims in Zamfara State. 

According to a statement by Director Defence Media Operations, Major General Musa Danmadami, the troops who on Thursday were on fighting patrol to bandits hideout at Danmarke village in Gummi Local Government Area, also recovered some arms.

General Danmadami explained that the troops encountered and engaged bandits in a fire fight.

READ ALSO: Soldiers Comb Abia Forest For Kidnapped Colleague, Recover AK-47 Rifles

A photo combination of the map of Zamfara State and a gun recovered from criminals.

“During the fire fight, the terrorists abandoned their hideout, with several fleeing with gunshots injuries. Troops exploited the general area and rescued 3 kidnapped victims, recovered five (5) AK 47 rifles and thirty (30) motorcycles among others items.”

The DHQ spokesman further stated that the military high command has commended troops of Operation FOREST SANITY and has encouraged the general public to avail troops with credible and timely information on criminal activities.


Terrorists Release Five More Abducted Kaduna Train Attack Victims


Five hostages who were taken on March 28 aboard an Abuja-Kaduna train have been freed by terrorists.

It is however not clear if any money was paid to the terrorists to release their abducted victims.

The security agencies and the Federal Government are yet to confirm the development, but a member of the negotiating team, Tukur Mamu told Channels Television that the victims were released on Tuesday.

He gave the names of the five released hostages as Professor Mustapha Umar Imam, who is a medical doctor at Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, Akibu Lawal, Abubakar Ahmed Rufai Mukthar Shu’aibu and Sidi Aminu Sharif.

READ ALSO: Terrorists Release Three Kaduna Train Attack Victims

Mamu, who said that he played a  prominent role in the release of the train victims, stated he has backed out due to threats to his life, personal integrity and lack of support from the Federal Government.

So far, 37 victims have regained their freedom. The number of those still in captivity now stands at 35.


Gunmen had on March 28 blown up the rail track, killing some and abducting scores of passengers, a situation that called for serious concern about the safety of the nation’s trains.

Tuesday’s release is coming a few days after three other victims the abducted Kaduna-bound train was freed by the terrorists.

The victims, who consist of two males and a female, secured their freedom around 11 am on July 25, bringing succour to their respective families.

Channels Television gathered that they were released by the terrorists at a location inside the forest along the Kaduna – Abuja highway.  From there, they were picked up by their relatives.

Worried about the situation, the Nigeria Railway Corporation temporarily suspended activities, with President Muhammadu Buhari directing security agencies to rescue the victims.

Just last week, the terrorists released a viral video where they were seen flogging their hostages. They also threatened to abduct President Buhari and Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai.

The presidency reacted to the threat hours after, accusing the insurgents of using propaganda to compel the government to yield to their demands.

In a statement, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said security forces are not helpless in stemming the tide of insecurity confronting the country.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Shehu said President Muhammadu Buhari has been supporting security agencies by boosting their morale and providing the needed equipment.


Terrorists Release Three Kaduna Train Attack Victims

The three victims of the Kaduna-bound train – Gladys Brumen, Hassan Lawan, and Ayodeji Oyewumi – regained their freedom from the terrorists on July 25, 2022.


Terrorists have released three victims of 62 hostages of the abducted Abuja-Kaduna train passengers on March 28.

The victims, who consist of two males and a female, secured their freedom around 11 am on Monday.

Channels Television gathered that they were released by the terrorists at a location inside the forest along the Kaduna – Abuja highway.  From there, they were picked up by their relatives.

READ ALSO: Kaduna Train Attack: Terrorists Threaten To Kill, Sell Hostages, Kidnap Buhari And El-Rufai

So far, 22 victims have regained their freedom.

It is however not clear if any money was paid to the terrorists to release their abducted victims.

One of the victims of the Kaduna train attack regains his freedom on July 25, 2022.


With the release of the three victims, the number of those still in captivity now remains at 40.

Gunmen had on March 28 blown up the rail track, killing some and abducting scores of passengers, a situation that called for serious concern about the safety of the nation’s train.


This Kaduna-bound train was attacked by armed gangs on March 28, 2022.


Worried about the situation, the Nigeria Railway Corporation temporarily suspended activities, with President Muhammadu Buhari directing security agencies to rescue the victims.

On Sunday, the terrorists released a viral video where they were seen flogging their hostages. They also threatened to abduct President Buhari and Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai.

The presidency reacted to the threat hours after, accusing the insurgents of using propaganda to compel the government to yield to their demands.

In a statement, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said security forces are not helpless in stemming the tide of insecurity confronting the country.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Shehu said President Muhammadu Buhari has been supporting security agencies by boosting their morale and providing the needed equipment.

He said, “The Presidency, in the meantime wishes to reassure the public that the President has done all, and even more than what is expected of him as Commander-in-Chief by way of morale, material and equipment support to the military and expects nothing short of good results in the immediate.”

Algeria Combats Wildfires, Mourns Victims

Smoke rises from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021. – At least five people have died in raging wildfires in Algeria as firefighters battle more than 31 blazes amid blistering temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, officials said. (Photo by Ryad KRAMDI / AFP)


Blazes raged across northern Algeria on Thursday as the country observed a national day of mourning for dozens of people killed in the latest wildfires to sweep the Mediterranean.

The North African country has been in the grip of devastating fires since Monday that have claimed at least 69 lives — 41 civilians and 28 soldiers.

Soldiers and civilian volunteers have joined firefighters on multiple fronts in the effort to extinguish the blazes that have been fanned by windy and tinder-dry conditions.

In Tizi Ouzou district, the area with the highest casualty toll, an AFP journalist reported entire sectors of forest going up in smoke.

Villagers forced to evacuate in order to escape the flames began trickling back to their homes, overwhelmed by the scale of the damage.

“I have nothing left. My workshop, my car, my flat. Even the tiles were destroyed,” one of them told AFP.

But he said he had “managed to save his family”, while adding that “neighbours died or lost their relatives”.

– ‘Surge of solidarity’ –

Flags were flying at half-mast after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning starting from Thursday.

The Algerian authorities say they suspect widespread arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time.

On the fourth day of the wildfires, efforts to overcome the blazes are continuing in many regions where civilians and soldiers often with limited means joined the fight.

Images of trapped villagers, terrified livestock and forested hillsides reduced to blackened stumps have been shared on social media.

Algeria is also chartering two firefighting planes from the European Union, aircraft recently used to combat fires in Greece.

France also announced the arrival in Algeria of two Canadair firefighting planes it has sent.

“They will help the rescue efforts to deal with the terrible fires that Algeria has been facing for several days,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Thursday.

Neighbouring Morocco, with whom Algeria has long had strained ties over the Western Sahara, also offered to help by providing two planes.

Faced with the scale of the disaster, pleas for help are multiplying in Algeria and beyond.

“Individuals and associations are mobilising… by organising collections of clothes, foodstuffs, medicines and hygiene products,” said Algeria’s TSA news website, calling it a “surge of solidarity”.

– Heatwave –

High winds fuelled the rapid spread of the flames in tinder-dry conditions created by a heatwave across North Africa and the wider Mediterranean.

The authorities have raised the possibility of criminal behaviour.

Four suspected “arsonists” arrested so far, but their identities or suspected motives have not yet been disclosed.

Armed forces chief Said Chengriha visited soldiers in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia, another badly affected area. Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane also visited Tizi Ouzou.

Each summer, Algeria endures seasonal wildfires, but rarely anything approaching this year’s disaster.

Meteorologists expect the Maghreb heatwave to continue until the end of the week, with temperatures in Algeria reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Across the border in Tunisia, where almost 30 fires have been recorded since Monday, the mercury hit an all-time record of 50.3 Celsius in the central region of Kairouan (centre).

On the northern shores of the Mediterranean, deadly wildfires have been raging in Turkey and Greece for the past two weeks.

In Italy, where firefighters were battling more than 500 blazes overnight, Sicily recorded a temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday that is believed to be a new European record.

Gunmen Kidnap Two Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic Workers In Staff Quarters

Chief Imam’s Son, Two Others Kidnapped In Ogun Community
File photo of a gunman wearing bullets


Two workers of Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic Zaria in Kaduna State have been abducted by gunmen suspected to be kidnappers.

The victims, a lecturer, and a non-academic staff were kidnapped on Saturday from their staff quarters located inside the institution along the Kaduna-Zaria expressway.

Confirming the incident to Channels Television, the spokesman of the Kaduna State Police Command, Mohammed Jalige, said the gunmen in their large numbers invaded the staff quarters of Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic around 10:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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He said two workers were taken away by the gunmen to an unknown destination.

Two other people were injured by the gunmen and have been rushed to the hospital for treatment.

Jalige said that security operatives have launched a manhunt of the kidnappers with a view to rescuing the victims and arresting the criminals.

Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic is an institution with its main campus is located along Kaduna-Zaria road with additional campuses at Tudun wada Gaskiya, and Samaru Kataf, in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

Governor Bello Condoles With Flood Victims As Death Toll Rises To 13 

The scene of a flooded community in Suleja area of Niger State on July 28, 2020.


Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, has condoled with the victims of the flood that occurred in Suleja area of the state on Saturday.

This comes as the death toll from the disaster rose to 13 with at least five persons still missing.

During a visit to the area, Governor Bello described the incident as unfortunate but expressed concern over the lack of adherence to urban development laws by the residents in the area.

While describing the incident as unfortunate, the governor, however, said the residents of the area do not comply with the open development laws.

“It is very unfortunate what has happened. About 12 or 13 people have died as a result of the flood. Our prayers are with the families of the deceased.

Governor Abubakar Bello says residents of the area flout existing laws by building houses on the waterways in the state.

“They are going through challenging times at the moment, they are grieving. I am also concerned that we have not been able to recover some of the bodies yet.

“I also understand there is an ongoing search for the remaining dead bodies. Hopefully, they will be found soon. On a separate note, I also noticed that in Suleja and some of our towns, people have made it a habit to build along waterlines and waterways.

“When you build along waterways, it is just a matter of time, it could be one, five or 10 years later, eventually the water will find its way,” he said.

Victims Of Ondo Fire Count Losses, Seek Govt’s Support


Victims of Oba Nla area of Akure, the Ondo state capital have been counting their losses following the fire outbreak that occurred on Sunday night.

Channels Television gathered that the inferno started at 9 O’clock where electrical materials are being sold.

About 20 shops were razed in the tragic incident with some shops into wholesale of electrical materials, textiles, provision stores, clothing as well as a canteen.

Similarly, properties worth millions of naira have been lost to the inferno.

Speaking to Channels Television, sympathisers said it would have been worse if not for the youths in the area that rallied round to put out the fire.

The owners of the property and some shop owners affected expressed sadness that the inferno would have been curtailed if the fire service were up to the task.

While lamenting the losses, they called on the state government to support them in order to recover from the incident.

Meanwhile, the real cause of the inferno is yet to be known as there was no evidence that it was caused by a gas explosion as earlier speculated.

Victims Of Taraba Clashes, Windstorm To Get Relief Materials

A file photo of a community deserted after an attack in Taraba State.



No fewer than 1,000 households affected by communal clashes and windstorms in seven local government areas of Taraba State are to benefit from the distribution of relief materials by the Federal Government.

Mr Igue Terungwa, who led a team of officials from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), flagged off the distribution of the materials on Tuesday for the affected communities to rebuild their damaged homes.

He had presented the items to the state deputy governor, Haruna Manu, before proceeding to commence the distribution which he noted was part of the government’s efforts to ameliorate the sufferings of the affected residents.

Giving a breakdown of the beneficiaries affected by the clashes, the NEMA official said the exercise would capture 170 households in Bali, 240 in Donga, and 100 in Ussa Local Government Areas of the state.

For those affected by windstorms, he says 150 households are in Jalingo, 200 in Gassol, 385 in Kurmi, and 100 in Sardauna LGAs.

In his response, the deputy governor thanked NEMA for the intervention, with hopes that there would be no more communal clashes that would warrant assistance from any quarter.

He also gave an assurance that the state government was making frantic efforts to restore peace in affected areas, and would assist NEMA with logistics to ease the onerous task of distribution.

Pakistan Mourners Bury Victims Of Train Fire


Distraught relatives gathered Friday for the funerals of some of the 74 people killed when fire ripped through a crowded train in Pakistan, with many of the victims residents of a single town.

Sobbing family members crowded a government building in Mirpurkhas overnight as the first bodies covered in white cloth began arriving by ambulance from the scene of the disaster.

After morning prayers, with women watching from nearby rooftops, more than a hundred men attended the first funeral — of a car mechanic named Mohammad Saleem, who was in his late 40s.

It was held at the Bismillah Mosque, from which at least 42 pilgrims had left to board the train one day earlier, bound for a religious festival near Lahore.

According to officials, as some of the passengers cooked breakfast around dawn on Thursday two of their gas cylinders exploded, sending flames racing through three carriages as the train passed near Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab province.

At least 74 people died, some after jumping through windows on the still-moving train to escape the blaze.

Rescue officials found bodies and some injured passengers along a two-kilometre stretch of track, Dawn newspaper reported.

The train was a daily express service that runs between the southern port city of Karachi and Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad.

Trains on that route can reportedly hit speeds of up to 110 kilometres (68 miles) per hour. Local media said that the speed may have helped fan the flames.

Journalists were allowed inside the interior of the carriages early Friday. The fire appeared to have burned them entirely, with virtually no space visible that was not blackened and charred.

One of them — Wagon No.12 — was carrying mainly people from Mirpurkhas, the town’s deputy commissioner, Attaullah Shah, told AFP.

“There was never such a tragic incident to happen to Mirpurkhas,” he said.

Mirpurkhas commissioner Abdul Waheed Sheikh said ten of the bodies had been confirmed as being residents of the town so far.

Twenty-four Mirpurkhas residents were among the injured.

But at least another 45 are still missing, he said.

Officials in Rahim Yar Khan have said many of the bodies are charred beyond recognition and will have to be identified through DNA testing — a process that could take up to one month.

Shah said the government was arranging to send families of the missing from Mirpurkhas to the hospital in Rahim Yar Khan where the bodies have been taken.


Mirpurkhas, a town of some half a million people surrounded by farms and mango orchards, was largely shut down Friday as businesses closed in mourning.

“These were such people that we can not ever forget them,” Mohammad Anwar, the 57-year-old headmaster of a government school, told AFP at the Bismillah Mosque.

He said that among the missing was his nephew, as well as the mosque’s imam. Most of those who left from the mosque had known one another or lived nearby.

Mahmood Iqbal wept outside his home as he told AFP how his two sons were missing, one son-in-law was killed, and one brother-in-law was wounded.

When he looks at his grandsons, he said, he “can’t hold my tears”.

“I am praying to Allah, that they might come back from nowhere. I am waiting for a miracle,” he said.

Yawar Hussain came to the deputy commissioner’s office overnight in the hope of finding his brother Mohsin, 20.

Clutching a photograph of his brother posing in a starched beige shalwar kameez and sunglasses, the 23-year-old described rushing home after hearing of the accident.

“I consoled my father, and my mother and sisters were crying,” he said.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.

Gas cylinders are supposedly banned on trains. Pakistan’s railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said Thursday it had been a “mistake” to allow the cylinders on board, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an inquiry.

But criticism, particularly of Ahmed, was growing as observers said there have been more than 70 railway accidents in the past year, including several major fatal ones.

Sabir Hussain Kaimkhani, a member of the National Assembly’s railways committee, told AFP the accident rate has increased “due to negligence”.

Kaimkhani said that alarm systems and emergency brakes in many trains are missing or broken, and that passenger carriages do not carry fire extinguishers.

Ahmed, who has refused to step down, denies the allegations and says the train in Thursday’s tragedy stopped when someone pulled an emergency brake.


Victims Of Church Abuse Go Global With Fight For Justice

Basilica of Lisieux, northwestern France (file copy) Credit: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP


After years of struggling alone or finding support in national groups, survivors of sex abuse by priests have formed a new international alliance to pressure the Catholic Church to face up to its crimes.

The group, called Ending Clerical Abuse (ECA), brings together activists from dozens of countries on several continents and will be mobilised in Rome this week when Pope Francis hosts a hotly awaited summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals shaking the Catholic Church.

“It’s a momentous and a historic movement… to bring a global and unified voice,” one of its co-founders, Peter Saunders, told AFP. “This is the first truly global initiative.”

Saunders’ personal story is among countless others suffered by people who grouped together to form ECA last June, including survivors from Chile, Poland, Switzerland, France, Italy, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries.

“I was abused at seven years old by a family member. I was also sexually abused by two Jesuit priests at my secondary school at about 12 years of age,” he said.

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The same priest targeted his brother Michael at the same school six years before him, and died aged 55 after a lifelong battle with drug and alcohol abuse.

“I think the Church has been resisting change for many, many years and I think at long last the Church is beginning to bow to the pressure put on by survivors, by our media colleagues around the world, and by public opinion,” he added.

The group’s objectives include forcing the Church to take a “zero tolerance” approach to paedophilia, working to overturn the statute of limitations on abuse cases, and supporting victims in areas where speaking out remains difficult, such as in various African and Asian countries.


From Wednesday to Sunday, ECA will bring together victims in Rome to put new pressure on Pope Francis, who has spoken out strongly over the last two years about abuse in the Church after a string of scandals worldwide.

But on the ground, survivors say the fight against the culture of secrecy within the Catholic hierarchy and an instinct to cover up abuse cases remains entrenched.

“Either I committed suicide or I spoke out,” said a 70-year-old Swiss co-founder of ECA, who gives his name only as Jacques. “It was a long and painful fight.”

He said a priest raped him continually when he was aged 14 to 20. After years of therapy, in 2009 he contacted the priest who abused him and attempted to reach closure.

Only after a five-year struggle did senior Church figures “understand the gravity of the acts of their colleague and accept moral responsibility on behalf of the institution,” he said.

As he battled for justice, he also learned that the priest had been identified as a possible paedophile even before he was ordained and had been sent to France several times for “treatment”.

In 2010, Jacques founded SAPEC, a victims group in French-speaking Switzerland, which led to the creation of a commission to investigate abuse and oversee compensation.

 ‘No apology’ 

In Poland, ECA co-founder Marek Lisinski, 50, said he had long dreamed of a new international organisation “to show Polish victims that they are not on their own.”

He said he was “assaulted for 10 months by a vicar” at age 13 and his search for justice led to a prosecution.

“I was forced to become an adult at age 13,” he said angrily.

Over several years he fought dependencies on alcohol and anti-depressants, made three suicide attempts and went through a divorce.

Finally, after nine years of legal proceedings, the vicar was suspended — but just for three years.

“In 2018, the court ordered him to apologise to me, but did not award damages,” he said. “I have never had the apology.”

Lisinsky added: “The Church has ignored victims, moves the perpetrators around (from one parish to another) and refuses to meet with us despite the instructions from the pope. Officially it has apologised… but as an institution it has never accepted its responsibility.”

In 2013, Lisinsky created the Don’t Be Afraid Foundation, which gathered testimony from 700 victims.

He published a shocking map online in October showing among other things all the parishes where abuse had been reported.

“There is barely a day without a victim coming forward to our Foundation. The youngest is a boy of 11,” he said.

Chilean activist Jose Andres Murillo, 43, struggled for 20 years before getting a measure of justice.

Also a founding member of ECA, Murillo was instrumental in bringing to light a huge scandal in Chile that led to 88-year-old priest Fernando Karadima being defrocked and prosecuted.

He said ECA needs to act “to create secure spaces within the Church”, safe from abuse.

“Faith is something positive for a lot of people, which helps them get through difficult moments, but that does not give the Church the right to create trauma in people’s lives,” he said.


Spanish Victims Of Sex Abuse By Priests Speak Out

File Photo: Survivors of sexual abuse by priests and clergy stand before photos of accused religious men during a news conference with lawyer Jeff Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates on February 14, 2019 in New York City. Anderson, who has specialized in representing survivors of clergy abuse, announced the filing of a lawsuit naming the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men for concealing from the public, parishioners, and law enforcement, the histories and identities of religious order of priests and brothers accused of sexually abusing children. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP


A trickle of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in schools and seminaries is starting to erode the wall of silence in Catholic Spain, whose Church representatives are set to attend a major Vatican meeting on child protection.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” warned Miguel Hurtado, who recently made his case public.

“They’re not ready for the tsunami that is coming,” the 36-year-old said defiantly.

For 20 years, Hurtado stayed quiet, trying to come to terms with the abuse he suffered when he joined a boy scout troup at the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, which sits high up in jagged mountains northwest of Barcelona.

His alleged abuser, whom Hurtado accuses of fondling him for a year, was a charismatic monk who founded the group and died in 2008.

“I would have reported it earlier but I was a kid and I was too scared,” said Hurtado, who revealed his accusations in a Netflix documentary on abuse in Spain’s Church.

“The secret was killing me and I needed to come out with the truth, whether people believed me or not.”

Since then, nine others have come out to allege they were victims of the same monk and fresh accusations have emerged in religious schools in the Basque Country, various Catalan parishes and in a college in Barcelona.

Even the football world was affected.

On Thursday, Atletico Madrid said it had parted ways with a former monk who once trained its young players after he acknowledged having sexually abused one of his students in the 1970s.


The heads of around 100 bishops’ conferences from every continent will convene from Thursday to Sunday for the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors.

“There is a chain-reaction… It’s easy to imagine that there is a lot hidden that has not yet come out,” says Josep Maria Tamarit, a professor in criminal law at the Catalonia Open University who is leading an investigation into the issue.

As scandals erupted in countries like the United States, Ireland or Australia, complaints in Spain were few and far between despite the Church’s loss of influence over the years, particularly with younger generations.

Hurtado believes this was down to how Spaniards deal with trauma in general.

“For example, we have dealt with the traumas of the (1936-9) civil war and the (ensuing) dictatorship via omission,” he says.

“Forgiving and forgetting as it’s part of the past. Leaving it all hidden.”

Many allegations that are proved have also either gone past the time limit in which legal proceedings can be initiated or the accused have died, says Tamarit.

“There is a lot of discouragement,” he adds.

In 2016, one of Spain’s biggest paedophile scandals erupted at schools run by the Marist Roman Catholic community in Barcelona.

Most of the 43 complaints made against 12 teachers were shelved.

Just two teachers ended up facing charges, one of whom was sentenced and the other is awaiting trial.

It’s a similar situation in Italy, another Catholic country criticised by a recent United Nations report for “the numerous cases of children having been sexually abused by religious personnel… and the low number of investigations and criminal prosecutions”.

Tamarit links this to a certain Catholic mentality which sees all sexual acts as sins and therefore “there is not much difference between any old impure act and abuse of a minor”.

“This meant it wasn’t made visible and there was no awareness of its importance and seriousness.”

Silence ‘has to stop’

In Spain though, the recent scandals have pushed the Spanish Church into action.

In October, it announced the creation of a commission to rework its protocol on abuse after being accused of covering up cases by the El Pais daily.

“There has been a kind of silence and the Church has taken part in this silence, which was also a part of society,” says Norbert Miracle, spokesman for the bishops’ conference in Catalonia and neighbouring Valencia and Andorra.

“But that has to stop.”

The justice ministry has also asked prosecutors and religious authorities for a report on all cases of abuse.

In December, it unveiled a new draft bill for child protection that wants the time frame within which legal proceedings can be initiated to start when the victim turns 30 rather than 18 as is the case now, giving victims more time to make their complaints.

But Infancia Robada (Stolen Childhood), the first such victims association created in January, is asking for this time frame to start when the victim turns 50.

“In most recent cases, this time frame wouldn’t have been of any use,” says founder Juan Cuatrecasas.