FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Spanish rapper convicted over tweets arrested after ignoring prison deadline

Pablo Hasél was taken to a penitentiary to serve a nine-month sentence for glorifying terrorism and insulting the Crown in a case that has reignited debate on freedom of expression

Pablo Hasél is arrested inside Lleida University (Spanish text).

Catalan police on Tuesday arrested a rapper for failing to report to prison by the deadline set by a court that found him guilty of glorifying terrorism and insulting the Spanish Crown in messages on social media.

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Pablo Rivadulla Duro, known by his artistic name Pablo Hasél, had been given until 8pm on Friday to report to Ponent penitentiary in Lleida, but he instead holed up inside the campus of Lleida University together with dozens of supporters who erected makeshift barricades with chairs and desks.

Hasél did not resist arrest, and as he was being led to a patrol car, he yelled out at the television cameras: “They will never silence us! Death to the fascist state!”

His case has reignited a public debate about crimes involving freedom of expression. The Spanish government on Monday announced that it is planning a reform of the criminal code that would eliminate prison terms for these kinds of crimes.

Hasél supporters protesting the recent conviction in Madrid on  February 6.
Hasél supporters protesting the recent conviction in Madrid on February 6.SUSANA VERA / Reuters

Hasél was found guilty by Spain’s central High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, over a series of Twitter messages that expressed support for terrorist organizations such as the now-defunct Basque group ETA and the Marxist GRAPO. He also accused King Felipe VI and his father Juan Carlos of several crimes, including homicide and embezzlement.

Although the prison term was for nine months, it will be raised to over two years because Hasél has refused to pay the fine that was also imposed on him.

The musician has avoided prison in the past despite another two-year conviction for writing and sharing songs praising terrorist groups; that sentence was ultimately suspended. He was also sentenced to jail for assaulting a journalist in 2016, and again for attacking a witness at a trial, but these rulings have been appealed.

Hasél is also under investigation for participating in an attempt to break into a government building in Lleida on March 25, 2018, during a protest over the arrest in Germany of former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, who had fled Spain to avoid arrest after leading the failed unilateral breakaway bid of October 2017.

Supporters of Pablo Hasél making barricades inside Lleida University.
Supporters of Pablo Hasél making barricades inside Lleida University.Joan Mateu / AP

The High Court said that due to his criminal record, it could not put the new prison term on hold. “With this record, a suspension of the penalty would be absolute discrimination against other criminals as well as a serious individual exception to the application of the law lacking any justification,” said the court, adding that “campaigns orchestrated by individuals in his favor cannot determine the non-application of existing legislation, but instead its eventual modification by parliament.”

In this latest case, Hasél was sentenced in March 2018 to a prison term of two years and one day, but an appeals judge later reduced the sentence to nine months and one day because his Twitter messages did “not pose a real risk” to anyone. This decision was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2020.

English version by Susana Urra.

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