Spain: Rapper Pablo Hasel who fled to university sent to jail

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Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel reacts as he is detained by riot police inside the University of Lleida

Reuters

Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel who barricaded himself inside a university to avoid a jail term has been arrested.

Catalan police entered the University of Lleida and detained him a day after he arrived there with supporters.

Hasel is facing a nine-month jail term for glorifying terrorism and slandering the crown and state institutions over tweets and lyrics that attacked the monarchy and police.

He was due to hand himself in last week but defied the order.

Almost two hours after officers from the Mossos police force went in early on Tuesday, Hasel was led away shouting “they will never silence us; death to the fascist state”.

He was driven away to the nearby Ponent prison, where he will begin serving his sentence, reports say.

Dozens of supporters had earlier built a barricade at the university in Lérida (Lleida in Catalan), 150km (90 miles) west of Barcelona. Pictures from the scene showed activists spraying fire extinguishers at police before he was arrested in the university rector’s building.

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A spokesman for the Catalan police force told the AFP news agency that officers had entered the university “to enforce the judicial ruling”.

More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodóvar and Hollywood star Javier Bardem, had signed a petition against his jail term, which was upheld by a Spanish court on Monday. Amnesty International tweeted that Hasel’s arrest was terrible news for freedom of expression in Spain.

Hasel tweeted overnight that he would go to prison “with my head held high” if he was taken away. “We cannot allow them to dictate what we can say, what we can feel or what we can do,” he tweeted, adding that he had chosen not to go into exile abroad.

Pablo Hasel in Lleida, 16 Feb 21

EPA

The Spanish government said last week it planned to reduce the penalty for “crimes of expression” such as the glorification of terrorism, hate speech and insults to the crown and religion, in cases that involve artistic or cultural activities. Besides attacks on the monarchy, Pablo Hasel’s tweets and lyrics accused police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

The singer was found guilty of glorifying terrorism in a separate case in 2014, but his prison sentence was suspended in 2019 on condition that he did not reoffend within three years.

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Spain’s freedom of speech controversy

By James Badcock, Madrid

Pablo Hasel will become the highest-profile person to have actually gone to prison for a speech crime in Spain in recent years. But his case is only one of many that have caused controversy.

Several other performers and bloggers have fallen foul of the criminal offence of “glorifying terrorism”, which is framed so broadly that any example of justifying a terrorist act, even if it took place a long time ago, can lead to a conviction.

In 2018 the rapper Valtònyc had his jail term confirmed by Spain’s Supreme Court, for glorifying terrorism and insulting the monarchy with his promises of bullets for right-wing politicians and a noose for the king.

Pro-Hasel mural in Barcelona, 7 Feb 21

Getty Images

The year before, Twitter user Cassandra Vera had been sentenced to prison for merely making jokes about the 1973 assassination of Gen Franco’s number two, Adm Luis Carrero Blanco, in a bomb attack by Eta Basque militants, although she was acquitted on appeal.

The government has promised to review the law. The legal framing of speech crimes might seem a dry, academic subject, but an explosion of graffiti artwork in Spanish cities in defence of Hasel in recent days suggests that many among Spain’s youth believe there is a real issue of freedom at stake.

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In one message Pablo Hasel expressed support for Victoria Gómez, a jailed member of the banned Marxist group Grapo. Elsewhere he accused King Felipe VI and his father Juan Carlos, the former king, of several crimes.

Hasel’s real name is Pablo Rivadulla Duro. He also backs the campaign for Catalan independence.

In 2017, Catalan separatists triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Sunday’s Catalan election gave the separatists a majority in the regional parliament.

In 2018 rapper Valtònyc was jailed for three-and-a-half-years in Spain, but he fled to Belgium, where a court decided not to extradite him. He remains wanted under a Spanish arrest warrant.

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