Spanish police storm university, arrest rapper Pablo Hasel convicted in free speech case
Dozens of Spanish police have stormed a university and arrested a rapper sentenced to jail on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting Spain’s former king in his lyrics.
- More than 200 prominent artists signed a petition against Pablo Hasel’s jailing
- The Spanish Government says restrictions on free speech will be eased
- The 2015 “gag law” was enacted by a previous government
Pablo Hasel, whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla, and a group of his supporters on Monday barricaded themselves in a building at Lleida university in the country’s northeast after he refused to hand himself in to police.
Known for his radical leftist views, Hasel was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to nine months jail over lyrics and tweets that included references to Basque separatist paramilitary group ETA, compared Spanish judges to Nazis and called former king Juan Carlos a mafia boss.
More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, actor Javier Bardem and singer Joan Manuel Serrat, signed a petition against Hasel’s jailing, and the case led the Government to announce some easing of restrictions on free speech.
Hasel’s supporters clashed briefly with police on Tuesday morning local time, throwing chairs and emptying fire extinguishers before officers carrying guns and wearing protective headgear reached Hasel.
“Victory will be ours… There will be no forgetting and no forgiving,” he shouted with his fist raised as he was surrounded by police and taken to jail, having several hours earlier retweeted the lyrics he was convicted for.
“[These are the tweets] they will jail me for within minutes or hours,” he added in a message to his 125,000 followers.
“Tomorrow it could be you.”
Before his arrest, Hasel said he was trying to “raise awareness of what is happening”.
In a sign of support, local artist Cinta Vidal painted street art in a town near Barcelona depicting Hasel with a microphone being painted over by former king Juan Carlos with a roll brush.
“It is not acceptable that an artist should go to prison for expressing his ideas,” said Vidal.
Spain to reform free speech laws
The Spanish Government earlier this month announced that restrictions on free speech would be eased in response to the nationwide furore over Hasel’s case.
However, the changes to the 2015 security law, known in Spain as the “gag law”, were not expected to prevent the jailing of Pablo Hasel.
Government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said that in response to the Hasel case, the Government had “expressed its willingness to provide a much more secure framework for freedom of expression”.
The reform was in its early stages, she said.
In a statement, the leftist coalition government said the reform would introduce milder penalties rather than prison, and target only actions that “clearly involve the creation of a risk to public order or provoke some kind of violent conduct”.
Hasel said in a tweet at the time the Government was doing nothing to prevent his imprisonment.
Law bans speech that insults religions or the monarchy
The 2015 law was enacted by a previous right-wing government, which said it was needed to prevent the glorification of banned armed groups such as the Basque separatists ETA.
It bans speech not only glorifying violence, but also insulting religions or the monarchy.
Opponents say it has been applied far too restrictively, imposing criminal penalties on legitimate criticism of the state. Amnesty International says around 70 people were convicted under the law in 2018 and 2019.
ETA announced its dissolution in 2018, after a four-decade campaign of violence that ended in 2010.
Juan Carlos last year went into self-exile late last year amid allegations he had improper business dealings with Saudi Arabia.
Another rapper fled to Belgium in 2018 after being sentenced to more than three years in prison on charges including insulting the monarchy and praising terrorist groups.
The artists’ petition likened Spain to countries such as Turkey or Morocco, where artists have been jailed.
“The imprisonment of Pablo Hasel makes even more evident the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all public figures who dare to publicly criticise the actions of any of the state institutions,” it said.