Spanish police arrest rapper holed up in university

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 17 Feb 2021

Spanish police's arrest of rapper Pablo Hasel, over tweets attacking the monarchy and the police, drew criticism as an attack on freedom of speech. — REUTERS

Spanish police stormed a university Tuesday to arrest a rapper barricaded inside after being sentenced to nine months' jail over tweets attacking the monarchy and the police in a case denounced as an attack on freedom of speech.

"They will never make us give in, despite the repression," Pablo Hasel said, his fist raised as officers in riot gear escorted him down a staircase.

"It is the fascist state that is arresting me. Death to the fascist state!" the 32-year-old shouted to the TV cameras.

Hasel had been given until last Friday night to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence after being convicted for glorifying terrorism, slander and libel against the crown and state institutions.

At issue was a series of tweets calling former king Juan Carlos I a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

Hasel -- real name Pablo Rivadulla -- is known for his hard-left views.

But his case has become a cause celebre among campaigners who argue his prosecution denied him freedom of speech, and his conviction sparked protests in Madrid and Barcelona.

On Monday, to avoid arrest he barricaded himself inside the University of Lleida, in the northeastern Catalonia region, along with dozens of supporters.

Officers entered the university early Tuesday to make the arrest, a Catalan police spokesman told AFP.

Dozens of officers in protective gear removed chairs, garbage bins and other objects set up as barricades to get to where the singer was holed up with his supporters.

"There were several barricades at the university, but the people inside did not offer much resistance," Jordi Dalmau, head of the Catalan regional police force in the region, told reporters.

Artist backlash

Hundreds of artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem and folk singer Joan Manuel Serrat, have signed a petition against Hasel's imprisonment.

The petition likened Spain to countries such as Turkey or Morocco, where artists have been jailed.

Last week, Spain's government pledged to reduce the penalty for "crimes of expression" such as the glorification of terrorism, hate speech, insults to the crown and offences against religious sensibilities in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual activities.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo on Tuesday reiterated the government's plans to reform the law.

"In the area of freedom of expression there should be margin for understanding and tolerance in a mature democracy like ours," she said. But she refused to comment on Hasel's arrest.

In an interview with AFP last week, Hasel had warned he had no intention of turning himself in.

"I refuse to go of my own accord and knock on the prison door," he said. "So they'll just have to come and kidnap me, which will show up the state for what it really is: a phoney democracy."

He accused the government of making empty pledges for reform.

'Democratic shortcomings'

Far-left party Podemos, the junior partners in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority coalition government, criticised Hasel's arrest.

"All those who consider themselves progressives and boast of (Spain's) 'full democratic normality' should be ashamed," the party said in a tweet.

"Are their eyes covered? There is no progress if we refuse to recognise our existing democratic shortcomings."

The tweet was a reference to recent controversial comments by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who said last week that there was no "full political and democratic normality in Spain".

That statement was criticised by all parties on the right, causing discomfort within Sanchez's Socialist party.

Hasel's case echoes that of another rapper, Valtonyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 after being convicted of similar crimes.

Spain is trying to have him extradited but Belgium has refused on the grounds that his offences are not a crime under Belgian law.

Valtonyc told AFP he felt "shame" and "anger at seeing a colleague treated like this for doing what artists do, which is to provoke.

"Artists are now going to suffer the worst type of censorship, which is self-censorship," he added.

"There are many songs that will not be written, plays that will stop being written -- all out of fear." – AFP

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