To comply with a court ruling, rapper Pablo Hasél, 32, should have surrendered to the police last Friday (12). He would then serve a nine-month prison sentence in 2018 as punishment for the crime of glorifying terrorism and insulting Spanish royalty.
Instead, Hasél joined a group of supporters and took refuge in the building of the University of Lleida, a town in the Catalonia region, on Monday (15). The next morning, however, dozens of police broke into the institution’s building to arrest the musician.
There was a brief confrontation between officers, armed and wearing protective gear, and the rapper’s group, who threw chairs and fired fire extinguishers at the officers. Then Hásel, known for his political position linked to the radical left, was arrested.
“The victory will be ours. There will be no forgetting or forgiveness,” he shouted, his fist raised, surrounded by police shortly before being taken to prison. In retrospect, the sentence seemed like a harbinger of actions to follow.
This Tuesday (16), thousands of people organized in demonstrations to demand the release of the rapper in cities of Catlunha or close to the region, such as Barcelona, Lleida, Valencia, Vic and Girona. There were further clashes between demonstrators – who set fire to garbage cans and, in some cases, looted shops and ravaged other buildings – and police, who responded with batons and foam bullets. (similar to rubber bullets) to disperse crowds.
At least 18 people were arrested and 55 injured, including 25 officers, according to a statement released by the Catalan regional police, which described these acts as “very serious incidents” in which the participants “destroyed everything they found. on their way “.
Further protests are expected on Wednesday (17), notably in the Spanish capital, Madrid, and Catalan authorities have reported that the police have “reinforced sensitive areas” to avoid further disruption.
One way or another, Hasel’s arrest seems to have reignited the debate over freedom of expression in Spain.
The reason for his conviction is a set consisting of posts on Twitter and lyrics to his songs in which, among other topics, he compares Spanish judges and police to the Nazis, classifies King Emeritus Juan Carlos as a “Mafia boss. And evokes the monarchy as “shitty mercenaries”.
Just before his arrest, the rapper reposted an image that brings together the messages targeted by the investigation. “Tweets they’re going to arrest me for in a few minutes or hours. Literally for explaining reality. Tomorrow it could be you,” Hasél wrote, warning his more than 130,000 followers.
Anticipating his detention, he called on his supporters to face fear and to disobey “so many unjust impositions of an increasingly less camouflaged tyranny”.
“We cannot allow them to dictate what to say, what to feel and what to do,” he continued. “Injustices are at fault and I have pointed them out aloud, with legitimate and necessary anger.”
For Hasél, his arrest is the result of a process in which the Spanish authorities want to prevent him from speaking in order “to avoid awareness and therefore organized struggle”.
More than 200 artists, including filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and actor Javier Bardem, have signed a petition opposing the rapper’s arrest. The petition compares Spain to countries like Turkey and Morocco, where artists and government opponents live at imminent risk of detention.
“The arrest of Pablo Hasél makes even more evident the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all public figures who dare to publicly criticize the actions of one or other of the state institutions”, says the manifesto.
Even the authorities who condemned the acts of vandalism by protesters on Tuesday admit that a change in the penal code is necessary to punish so-called “crimes of opinion”.
“These are outdated and obsolete precepts from another era,” said Catalan Interior Minister Miquel Sàmper, adding however that “nothing justifies extreme violence” directed against the police during the demonstrations.
“The arrest of Pablo Hasél provokes outrage, but violence is not the way,” Barcelona mayor Ada Colau said. “The riots are not going to get him out of jail and are totally unwarranted. We hope they don’t happen again.”
Last week, Spain’s central government announced the start of a reform of the Citizen Security Act, which places restrictions on freedom of speech and has become known locally as the “gag law”.
According to the law, Hasél’s publications and music can be characterized as “glorification of terrorism” by references to ETA (the former Basque separatist paramilitary group dissolved in 2018) and incitement to violence by critics of police and police. the monarchy.
Responding to the rapper’s case, spokeswoman María Jesús Montero said the government was prepared to “provide a more secure framework for freedom of expression” through reform of the law, still in its infancy.
In a statement, the left-wing coalition government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, said the reform would introduce lighter sentences instead of imprisonment. In addition, only actions which “clearly involve the creation of a risk to public order or the cause of a certain type of violent behavior” will be targeted.
In this sense, Sánchez also received criticism from Hasél. According to the rapper, the government was doing nothing to prevent his arrest. “With false claims like so many false promises, they want to extinguish solidarity,” he tweeted.
The “gag law” was enacted in 2015, under the government of conservative Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP). The stated objective was to prohibit the glorification of violence by armed groups like ETA and also to curb insults against religions or the monarchy.
Since then, however, the law has been enforced very restrictively, imposing criminal penalties on legitimate critics of the state, as shown in Folha’s report released in the law’s first month of validity.
Despite being sentenced to nine months in prison, Hasél could see his sentence extended to more than two years as the sentence includes a fine which the rapper refused to pay – as have other Spaniards charged under the ” gag law ”.
However, Hasél’s problems with the Spanish justice system can be even more serious. In his case file, he has another conviction for similar acts, but the execution of the sentence has been suspended. In addition, he is awaiting legal opinions on two other sentences he has appealed against: one for assaulting a journalist and the other for assaulting a witness during a hearing.