Catalan rapper Pablo Hasél was arrested this month for tweets he made in 2018 that were critical of the Spanish monarchy and praised anti-fascist resistance groups. The 32-year-old rapper, poet, and political activist has frequently run into issues with the Spanish authorities, but this time his imprisonment has sparked protests across the country, with many calling for his immediate release from prison.
NPR reports that his arrest has led to multiple days of protest, and has also reignited conversations over free speech in Spain. His supporters are protesting in major cities throughout Spain, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Girona. While the protests started peacefully, they later escalated by Thursday when police began clashing with demonstrators. Dozens of individuals have been arrested at the protests since they began following Hasél's arrest on February 16.
Hasél was first ordered to surrender to authorities and serve a nine-month sentence for his tweets. However, he refused and eventually barricaded himself in the University of Lleida with his supporters before he was later arrested. “They will never silence us; death to the fascist state,” Hasél reportedly told onlookers as he was taken away by authorities. Many have been very critical of his arrest and the criminalization of insults directed at the Spanish royal family. Over 200 artists have signed a petition demanding for him to be freed, including Javier Bardem, BBC reports.
Madrid’s conservative mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida condemned the protest in a tweet. "The violent and those who do not accept the rules have no place in our society," he wrote. Images and videos from the protests show police officers rushing large groups of individuals and firing rubber bullets to disperse some of the crowds. Catalonia’s police force claimed that people in Girona threw stones and “pyrotechnic material” at the officers responding to a demonstration of 5,000.
Hasél was arrested for violating Spain’s Public Security Law, which was established in 2015 to criminalize the “glorification” of terrorist groups and insults directed at the monarchy. Amnesty International Spain director, Esteban Beltrán, called his arrest a violation of “freedom of expression.”