Spanish rapper’s jailing fuels outcry over freedom of speech

Pablo Hasél the latest performer to face action for tweets and song lyrics

Thousands of protesters in Barcelona, Spain have called for the release of musician Pablo Hasel after the rapper was sentenced to jail on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting Spanish royalty in his lyrics. Video: David Dunne

 

A Spanish rapper who barricaded himself inside a university to avoid serving a jail sentence for terrorism-related offences has been arrested amid an outcry over his case.

Pablo Rivadulla Duró, who is known as Pablo Hasél, was due to begin a nine-month jail term on Friday after being convicted of glorifying terrorism and insulting the crown in a series of tweets and in the lyrics to his music.

But instead of handing himself in, on Monday he took refuge in a university building in his home city of Lleida, in Catalonia, along with a group of supporters. Hasél says the criminal case against him curtails his freedom of speech and is part of efforts by the state to muzzle radical leftist voices.

“They will jail me with my head held high having refused to give in to their terror,” he wrote on Twitter, from inside the university.

Early on Tuesday riot police entered the building and detained the rapper. Footage posted on social media showed some of those supporting him blocking the entrance with chairs and letting off fire extinguishers as the police approached.

Before getting into a police car, Hasél shouted: “Death to the fascist state.”

His lawyer, Diego Herchhoren, said the case “shows the state’s democratic deficiencies”.

Prosecution case

A total of 64 tweets published between 2014 and 2016 were used in the prosecution against Hasél. One of them read: “You kill a police officer? They’ll leave no stone unturned to find you. The police kills someone? They don’t even investigate properly.”

Other tweets denounced the police for torturing and killing a member of Basque terrorist group Eta. The song used as evidence against the rapper attacks former king Juan Carlos, who fled Spain last year amid several financial scandals, accusing him of corruption.

This is just one in a string of cases that have seen Spanish performers and social media users receive jail sentences for tweets or song lyrics. In 2018 a Mallorcan rapper known as Josep Valtònyc avoided serving a 3½-year sentence for glorifying terrorism and insulting the monarchy by taking refuge in Belgium, where he remains.  

In another case a singer known as César Strawberry, of metal-rap band Def Con Dos, received a one-year suspended sentence for jokes he had posted on Twitter.

Widespread outrage

Although terrorism victims’ campaigners have in the past supported such judicial actions, the cases have also triggered widespread outrage.

Last week more than 200 personalities from the Spanish cultural sphere, including actor Javier Bardem and director Pedro Almodóvar, issued a manifesto supporting Hasél. Warning that Spain’s record when it came to jailing artists put it “alongside countries like Turkey or Morocco”, the document called for a change in the law.

Irish MEP Clare Daly this month denounced Spain over Hasél’s case in the EU parliament.

Spain’s leftist coalition government has responded to the outcry. Podemos, the junior partner, warned that the Hasél case exposed weaknesses within Spanish democracy, and government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero said the law governing such cases should be reviewed “as quickly as possible”.