Pablo Hasél had promised him that he would not leave quietly and he kept his word.
The Spanish rapper, whose imprisonment this week has caused violent discomfort and a political dispute within the coalition government led by Spain’s Socialists, barricaded themselves at the university in the Catalan city of Lleida on Monday.
In one of his last tweets Before the police entered the campus and set him aside to start a nine-month sentence, Hasél asked his supporters to continue to “denounce those guilty of ruining so many lives.” His words, it seems, have caught his attention. In cities across the country, crowds of protesters have burned properties and have thrown objects at police every night since then to vent their anger on the rapper. “kidnapping”.
Jailed Tuesday for exalting terrorism in his lyrics and tweets, Hasel’s case has also exposed a deep division in Spain over freedom of expression and the country’s democratic values.
While the mainly young protesters express their anger at the rapper’s sentencing, the case is forcing the government to finally confront some of the country’s laws and its judiciary, which is accused of playing an increasingly reactionary role in society and politics. The Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, acknowledged this Friday morning that Spanish democracy has work to do “when it comes to expanding and improving the protection of freedom of expression”. But, he added: “In a full democracy, there is no place for any type of violence, and there are no exceptions.”
Despite protests, in which a young woman reportedly lost an eye to a police foam bullet and the offices of the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya were attacked, many people in Spain support Hasél’s imprisonment. They say their lyrics and tweets are a unacceptable humiliation victims of terrorism and incite hatred against the police and the former king of the country. In sentencing him, the judges argued that the violence in his words could translate into violence on the ground, and conservatives point to the aftermath of his arrest to prove the point.
Yet for many others, including people who find Hasél’s lyrics deeply rude, his imprisonment is the most extreme example yet of a troubling sign that the Spanish judicial system is punishing people not for what they have done, but because of what they have said, sung, tweeted. or drawn.
Amnesty International and Spanish celebrities such as Javier Bardem and Pedro Almodóvar say the convictions of Hasél and others are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
A week before Hasél’s imprisonment, Pablo Iglesias, leader of the left-wing Podemos party and one of Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, He suggested the country had not completely turned the page on the extreme right dictatorship from 1939 to 1975: “It is obvious that Spain does not have a situation of political and democratic normality,” he said.
A Saturnian figure who appears older than his 32 years, Hasél (real name Pablo Rivadulla Duro), could seem an unlikely figure to be praised in graffiti and murals throughout Spain. Modeled after aggressively political Spanish rap pioneers like Kase O, he’s a household name less for his artistry than for his well-publicized brush with the law since 2011.
He is now serving his first prison sentence, but has been tried multiple times in the past for tweets and lyrics. He was also given a separate sentence of two and a half years for threatening to kill a man in a bar, and another six-month sentence for assaulting a television journalist during a press conference in 2016.
Some of Hasél’s verbal attacks describe the former king of Spain, Juan Carlos I, as a “mob boss” who has taken pleasure in Saudi tyrants. The diatribes against the police claim that they “sow racism” and “killings with impunity.” Those tweets were deemed not to have been Penal Code of Spain which criminalizes “insulting” the crown and the police. For this, Hasél was ordered to pay a heavy fine. But it is the lyrics and the tweets that allude to terrorist figures with approval that carry the far more serious charge of “glorification of terrorism” and that ultimately earned Hásel a prison sentence.
“I don’t give a damn about the bullet in the neck, pepero.” it’s an example of such sentiment, examined in a previous trial. Appeal is a nickname for those who support the Spanish center-right Popular Party, several members of which were assassinated by the Basque terrorist group Eta in the 1990s.
Hasél is not the only rapper whom Spanish judges have seen fit to imprison and punish on similar charges: in 2018, the Mallorcan musician known as Valtònyc received a custodial sentence for some of his lyrics and escaped to Belgium a day earlier than provided. to get into jail.
Other art figures have also found themselves at the sharpest end of the penal code in recent years, a situation that is a source of deep concern for the international arts advocacy group Freemuse. Srirak Plipat, director of the Denmark-based organization, said: “I think freedom of expression in Spain has been on the decline for the last 10 years.”
This deterioration that Plipat claims has occurred may be a significant factor in understanding why the Hasél case is causing such discomfort.
A decade ago, Spain was still deeply affected by the global financial crisis. In 2011, youth unemployment was close to 50%. Anti-austerity measures and the general contempt for Spanish political culture unleashed the “May 15” (15M) movement, which launched Podemos and Iglesias’s career. Its young followers occupied places throughout Spain.
In 2012, Catalonia took over from Basque separatism as the new dividing line in the unstable unity of Spain. The Catalan movement to secede from Spain culminated in Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum of 2017, during which people were filmed beaten by police while trying to vote.
During the same period, an avalanche of royal scandals damaged the popularity of the monarchy. the revelation that King Juan Carlos I had gone hunting elephants with his lover in Botswana while Spain languished in the misery of the era of austerity caused great outrage. The once revered member of royalty was forced to abdicate in favor of his son in 2014.
Around this time, Iglesias coined the term “the caste “ to describe established political parties, big business interests, and judges. The term was adopted by adherents of 15M, and the “caste”, clinging to the old certainties of the monarchy and a united Spain, began to feel the heat. Last year that pressure intensified after the bomb allegation that Juan Carlos had received bribes in Saudi Arabia totaling $ 100 million.
According to Plipat and other free speech advocates, these crises prompted conservative politicians and judges to start using free speech laws to stem the torrent of tweeted anger.
Plipat points out that judges began to use the glorification of the terrorism charge more frequently starting in 2015. David Canales, a researcher at Amnesty International’s office in Madrid, also says that conservative lawmakers toughened sentences related to the exaltation of the terrorism in the same year: “Those 2015 reforms were clearly enacted in response to all that social mobilization and all that activism.”
The emergence of Hasél, an anti-monarchical far-left Catalan, as a national symbol is not due so much to what he says or expresses, but to the fact that he represents the logical conclusion of this repression of law and order.
With their stark references to terrorist victims, Hasél and Valtònyc can be considered outliers. But since 2015, much milder forms of expression have brought people to court. The judicial environment has created what Canales calls a dangerous “deterrent effect.”
Guille Martínez-Vela, editor of the Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves, is very familiar with the threat of being hit by the penal code. In 2017, while thousands of additional police officers were dispatched to Catalonia in the run-up to the illegal referendum, their post joked that riot police had snorted the entire cocaine supply in the region.
Although the alleged fondness of the police for drugs is a comic trope in Spain, Martínez-Vela was denounced by the National Police and summoned to a hearing. The police argued that the joke was fostering hatred against the police. Martínez-Vela said the hate speech laws were designed to protect minorities, not a powerful group backed by the state. Eventually, the charges were dropped. But Martínez-Vela was moved by the experience: “When I am now drawing or writing a joke for the magazine, I always think ‘how am I going to defend this in front of a judge?’… That is the chilling effect: the idea that if you joke about the police, they can take you to court. ”
There are many other examples, including in 2017 when a student, Cassandra Vera, received a suspended jail sentence for tweeting a joke about the 1973 assassination by Eta of the last prime minister to serve under Franco, and in 2016 a gang of puppeteers. faced criminal charges for allegedly exalting Eta in a street production in Madrid. Vera’s sentence was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Spain, while the puppeteers were finally acquitted.
But there are signs that a change could be on the way from the government, which last week announced plans reform the law so that “verbal excesses committed in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual acts” do not give rise to prison sentences. A government spokeswoman said she wanted to “provide a much more secure framework for freedom of expression.” Podemos seeks to go further with changes that would modify or completely abolish the clauses glorifying terrorism.
Advocates for change can even be found in the judiciary. A high-ranking Spanish judge, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “The mentality of some judges is very conservative, they have ideas that are not progressive about fundamental rights… and this leads to these interpretations. I think, in general, other people [in the judiciary] agrees that these laws should be changed. For me, the limit to freedom of expression should only be when there is a direct message to go out and hurt someone.
There was no justification for a rap lyric to require a jail sentence, the judge said. “I think it is absolutely disproportionate. We’re putting it on the same level as stabbing someone. “
For the judge, the Hasél case raises profound questions about Spanish society and its relationship with the monarchy. “Perhaps we have very fragile institutions and there is a tendency to overprotect them. Mature societies, after all, can deal with this kind of criticism without going to court. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism