The rapper’s arrest triggered widespread protest and debate over free speech in Spain

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As accusations of free speech and “canceled culture” continue to boil over the world, last week the issue emerged as a fierce rally on the streets of Spain.

A provocative Spanish rapper led to widespread protests and a debate about freedom of expression in the European country.

Pablo Hasel’s tweets And the lyrics came back to haunt him, as the anti-musician was jailed last Tuesday on charges of insulting Spain’s monarchy and glorifying terrorism in some of the country’s major cities, some of which nationwide There were mass protests.

Hazel – whose full name is Pablo Rivadulla Duro – missed surrendering to police earlier this month to serve a nine-month prison sentence handed down in 2018 when he was convicted on song and tweet that the Nazis Spanish judges called and the former called King Juan Carlos a mafia boss. He also referenced the Basque separatist paramilitary group known as the ETA, which sought independence from Spain.

Instead, Hessel barricaded himself at a university in Catalonia city of Lleida before he was eventually arrested and jailed.

“Tomorrow it may be you,” He tweeted He was first imprisoned and then retweeted the songs he was convicted of.

“We cannot allow them to tell us what to say, what to feel and what to do,” he said.

Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel, now in captivity, last Friday in Lleida, Spain. Pau Barina / AFP via Getty Image

His supporters and those who set alleged limits on free speech were taken to the streets of cities including the capital, Madrid; Valencia; And Catalonia’s regional capital, Barcelona, ​​where thousands said “freedom for Pablo Hazel,” and, “no more police violence.”

As tensions rose on Saturday, police clashed with members of fringe groups, who barricades the street and smashed storefront windows in downtown Barcelona.

Pepe Ivora Garcia, an 18-year-old student from the city who joined the protests on Thursday night, said he had turned out to support Hasle in a peaceful manner and called it an “attack” on democratic freedom that was the “backbone” of the Spanish constitution Is part of.

“I am neither Catalan, nor pro-independence, but I am a Democrat,” Garcia told NBC News. “I humbly consider it an embarrassment and a democratic anomaly that the European country has prisoners in prison for their views in the 21st century.”

Protesters broke a bank window in Barcelona on Thursday after protests condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hustle.Felipe Dana / AP

Hessel became an unpredictable free speech champion after drawing attention to Spain’s 2015 Public Security Law case. Enforced by the previous, conservative-led government, the law prevents insults from the glorification of banned armed groups such as religion, monarchy, and the ETA.

More than 200 actors, including film director Pedro Almodovar and actor Javier Bardem, signed an open letter in solidarity with Hazel last week.

Human rights organization Amnesty International Spain also slammed the rapper’s imprisonment as an “unsympathetic ban on freedom of expression”.

The so-called 2015 “gag law” has been a “step back” for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Spain, said Koldo Casella, a law lecturer at the University of Essex, England and former head of the human rights commissioner. Basque Country.

“Public officials were given excessive leeway to impose administrative fines with effect on peaceful demonstrations,” he told NBC News.

Kesla said that although Hazel’s lyrics may be considered “cruel or degrading”, they were not sufficient reason to enforce the criminal code. He said that the resentment caused by his lawsuit should be an opportunity for MPs to “amend the criminal code to ensure that it conforms to the highest standards of freedom of expression.”

The debate has prompted Spain’s ruling left-wing coalition government to announce that it will seek to reform the 2015 law, giving greater tolerance to artistic and cultural forms of military punishment and expression.

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Spanish opposition, however, should concern neighboring countries, Patrick breyer, A member of the European Parliament told NBC News. He said Hazel’s case represented an attack on “legitimate dissent” and should be a “great concern” for the European Union.

“Spain is going too far, interpreting and using its anti-terror laws, and I’m afraid it may end,” Brey said. “I think satire, jokes and the arts are a very important part of society … and it is retaliatory to crack down on such speech, and the same applies to the criticism of the police and the Taj – the democracy. Is extremely important. “

A protestor hit a police van during a protest on Wednesday in Barcelona, ​​Spain, condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hassall.Emilio Morenatti / AP

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence at the protests.

“Democracy protects freedom of expression, including expression of the most horrible, absurd ideas, but democracy never protects violence,” he said on Friday.

Not all Spaniards are supporters of Hessel’s case.

The elementary school teacher, 49-year-old Rafa Moreta, sacked the rapper as a “left-wing extremist”, telling NBC News that his arrest was not about his songs or tweets, but because he was “glorifying terrorism Were.”

“His admission to prison has sparked a debate about freedom of expression that his supporters have used to incite riots in the streets,” Moreta said, adding that the law inadvertently transformed a victim and a hero. “

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Matthew Mulligan has contributed.

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