BARCELONA - Spanish courts are releasing serial rapists and killers under a European human rights ruling, terrifying their victims as authorities warn the convicts risk reoffending.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last month overruled a Spanish doctrine that let judges effectively prolong the jail terms of the most serious offenders.
As well as freeing dozens of convicted members of the Basque armed separatist movement ETA - enraging victims' families - the ruling has led to the release of notorious serial rapists and killers.
Among them is Manuel Gonzalez, known as the "madman in the tracksuit", who was jailed in 1997 for raping 16 women between 1991 and 1993 and killing one of them.
"The problem is not only that the victims feel uneasy, but that it puts all women in danger," said Maria Jose Varela, lawyer for one of Gonzalez's victims.
The European court said Spain had acted illegally by denying certain prisoners shortened sentences for good behaviour.
Gonzalez was sentenced to 169 years in jail in 1997 for the string of assaults in which he would attack his victims from behind with a knife.
He was released from jail in Barcelona last week after serving 20 years.
"According to the experts, he is not cured of his urges," the Catalonia region's interior minister, Ramon Espadaler, told Catalunya Radio.
"We are aware that this is an issue that naturally causes unease."
He said the courts ordered "non-intrusive" surveillance of Gonzalez by police, but acknowledged there were limits to how closely the convict could be monitored.
Varela told AFP that Gonzalez "has come out of jail without having been rehabilitated and with a medical report that says there is a high risk that he will commit the same deeds again. That is a cause for fear."
In the weeks since the Strasbourg ruling, Spanish courts have released several other rapists and killers.