Words by Aiala Suso

Since Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél was arrested on 16 February, demonstrations have taken place across Spain, mainly in Barcelona and Madrid where there has also been violence, looting and vandalism. Hasél faces a jail sentence after his recent charges for inciting terrorism and insulting both royalty and state institutions were added to his criminal record. Protesters see in his arrest an attack on free-speech and demand his release.

The protests started on 6 February when the 9-month jail sentence for Hasél was made public. The violent clashes that broke out between protesters and the police since then have led to over 160 arrests, of which 129 have occured in Catalonia.

The main protests are happening in Barcelona and Madrid, where looting and vandalism have destroyed many shops and damaged public spaces. Only in Barcelona the damages are estimated to have cost several million so far. Shop owners see the events as “an act of destruction, not an exercise of freedom”.

Spanish magistrate Ignacio González Vega –a title that in Spain means a higher category than a judge–, said that there has been similar cases in the past, but “the peculiarity of Pablo Hasél is that he […] has a criminal record, for crimes not only of expression but also of another nature and, in fact, today there has been a new conviction for trying to attack a witness in a trial.”

Hasel was convicted for the first time in 2014 for exalting terrorism on account of several videos uploaded to YouTube between 2009 and 2011. He was accused of “praising” terrorist groups ETA, the GRAPO, Al Qaeda or Terra Lliure and “asking them to return to commit their actions”. He was not arrested because he had no previous convictions.

In 2018, he was sentenced again for glorifying terrorism, insulting the Crown and attacking state institutions in both a song and 64 messages published on Twitter in 2016 –when he had 54.000 folowers. This time his crime was aggravated by recidivism.

The rapper currently has three other court cases open. He has been convicted for pushing, insulting and spraying cleaning liquid on a journalist in 2016; and for attacking a man who testified as a witness in a trial involving a friend of the rapper. These two judgments are being appealed and are not yet final. 

He is also being investigated for allegedly breaking into Lleida government sub-delegation in protest of the arrest of the former president of the Generalitat de Catalunya Carles Puigdemont –who is in exile after his unilateral declaration of independence.

One of his most controversial messages, referring to the terrorist group GRAPO, said: “The demonstrations are necessary, but not enough, let’s support those who have gone further”. In another tweet he said GRAPO “truly represents us”.

He has also tweeted about conservative Spanish politicians: “They don’t sell me the story of who the bad guys are, I just think about killing them.”; and shared anti-feminist and degrading messages against women: “Bukkake for all the crazy women who paint us all men as potential abusers and wish there were only women”. 

In addition to the demonstrations, more than 200 Spanish artists, including the film director Pedro Almodóvar and actor Javier Bardem, signed a petition calling for Hasél’s release and demanding the reform of laws on freedom of expression. 

They warn that the current law poses a threat to “all public figures who dare openly criticize the actions of state institutions.” The 1995 law that made insulting both the crown and state institutions a crime has tormented many artists and satiric writers since it came into force. 

Different sectors of the Spanish government and humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty International have cataloged Hasél’s sentence as “unfair.” Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, made a call for calm: “Defending the freedom of expression doesn’t justify in any case the destruction of property, frightening our fellow citizens, and hurting businesses already hurt by the crisis.”

Spanish journalist at ICAL news agency, Carlos Tabernero, told The Badger: “The profile of the protesters is a diverse group of youngsters between 15 and 30 years old who are using Hasel’s arrest as an excuse; some belong to groups with a long anarchist and anti-system tradition, and others who respond violently against the system because they feel it has left them behind”.  

According to Tabernero: “In Barcelona, as some police and media reports suggest, there are violent groups that mobilize to protest for any reason, whether it is the imprisonment of Pablo Hasél, the Catalan independence movement or the restrictions decreed to stop COVID-19”. 

Picture Credit: Jordiventura96

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