Thousands take to Barcelona’s streets to demand release of arrested rapper

A person walks in front of fire during a protest in support of Catalan rap singer Pablo Hasel, after he was given a jail sentence on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty in his songs, in Barcelona, Spain, February 16, 2021

Thousands of protesters took over some of Barcelona’s streets on Tuesday evening to demand the release of a rapper arrested by Spanish police after being given a jail sentence on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty in his songs.

Dozens of police stormed Lleida university in northeastern Spain earlier in the day and arrested rapper Pablo Hasel after he had barricaded himself there. Hasel, known for his radical leftist views, missed a deadline last Friday to surrender to police to serve a nine-month jail term handed down in 2018 – a sentence that caused an uproar in Spain and led the government to announce it would make free speech laws less restrictive.

Hasel was convicted over lyrics and tweets that included references to the Basque separatist paramilitary group ETA, compared Spanish judges to Nazis and called former king Juan Carlos a mafia boss.

After Hasel’s arrest, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told reporters that jailing people over matters of freedom of speech should not happen in a democracy like Spain.

Hasel took refuge at the university with a group of supporters on Monday. They clashed briefly with police on Tuesday morning, throwing chairs and emptying fire extinguishers, before officers carrying guns and wearing protective headgear apprehended Hasel.

News images showed thousands of people marching on some of Barcelona’s main streets, shouting “Freedom for Pablo Hasel”. Protests also took place in other cities and towns in the Catalonia region.

There were some clashes between protesters and riot police, with images showing rubbish bins on fire, looted shops and objects thrown at officers trying to disperse the crowd, sometimes using batons and foam projectiles.

Mossos d’Escuadra, the Catalan regional police, said on Twitter that protesters burned motorbikes and bins, creating barricades and blocking streets in Barcelona, and that 14 people had been arrested.

‘IT COULD BE YOU’

“Victory will be ours. … There will be no forgetting and no forgiving,” Hasel shouted, fist raised, as he was surrounded by police and taken to jail, having several hours earlier retweeted the lyrics for which he was convicted.

“Tomorrow it could be you,” Hasel added in a message to his 125,000 followers.

More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, actor Javier Bardem and singer Joan Manuel Serrat, signed a petition opposing Hasel’s jail sentence.

Spain’s leftist government said last week in response to the case that it would reform the “gag law” enacted in 2015 by a previous administration to prevent the glorification of banned armed groups such as ETA. The law also bans insults against religion and the monarchy.

The government said it would introduce milder penalties, target only actions that pose a risk to public order or might provoke violence, and would uphold tolerance for artistic, cultural and intellectual forms of expression.

ETA announced its dissolution in 2018 after a four-decade campaign of violence that ended in 2010.

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