A Spanish rapper has barricaded himself inside a Catalan university to avoid a prison sentence for tweets and lyrics that attacked the monarchy and police.
Pablo Hasel was given until last Friday to turn himself in, after being sentenced to nine months for glorifying terrorism, and slandering the crown and state institutions, but he has tweeted that he is with supporters inside Lleida University. “They’ll have to break in to take me and jail me,” he tweeted defiantly. Besides attacks on the monarchy, the musician’s tweets and lyrics accused police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.
Lleida University is in the city of Lérida (Lleida in Catalan), 150km (90 miles) west of Barcelona. He is with about 20 supporters there. More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodóvar and Hollywood star Javier Bardem, have signed a petition against his jailing. The Spanish government plans 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.
In one message 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 another rapper, known as 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. If the court order against Pablo Hasel is finally enforced, he 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.
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.