Street violence in Barcelona escalates amid ongoing protests over Pablo Hasél’s arrest

Demonstrators set fire to police vehicle, smashed ATMs and looted a Zara store on the ninth day of unrest in the Catalan capital

Footage of Saturday‘s protest in Barcelona.Video: Foto: Emilio Morenatti (AP) | Vídeo: Alfonso L. Congostrina
Alfonso L. Congostrina

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Around 4,000 protesters took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday to protest against the arrest of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél, according to the city’s local police force, the Guardia Urbana. This marked the ninth night of protests over the arrest of the musician, who was convicted of praising terrorism and insulting the Spanish Crown in messages on social media.

Hasél was detained two weeks ago after a court had refused to suspend his nine-month sentence due to his criminal record, which includes convictions for assault and for writing songs that expressed admiration for terrorist acts. The arrest sparked widespread protests, with demonstrators clashing with police and looting. Some protesters at an earlier rally told EL PAÍS that Hasél’s case was “just an excuse” to express frustration at systemic problems such as youth unemployment.

A hotel lobby in Barcelona damaged in Saturday‘s protest.
A hotel lobby in Barcelona damaged in Saturday‘s protest.Emilio Morenatti (AP)

The demonstration on Saturday in Barcelona began peacefully, with protesters gathering at Universitat square where they called for “freedom for Pablo Hasél” and “freedom of expression.” The rally turned violent when the group reached the city’s popular La Rambla street, and some of the protesters, who were carrying hammers and other tools, began to smash automated teller machines (ATMs) and the windows of bank offices. One office was even set on fire, which forced firefighters to come to the scene. Protesters in La Rambla also attacked sidewalk cafés, throwing tables and chairs to the ground and toppling planters.

Protesters smash a shop window in Barcelona.
Protesters smash a shop window in Barcelona.NACHO DOCE (Reuters)

The most serious incident happened outside the headquarters of the Guardia Urbana, when protesters threw flammable material at a police vehicle, which caught on fire. At least one officer was inside the vehicle at the time, but was able to escape uninjured. In Catalonia square, protesters also looted a Zara clothing store and smashed a hotel’s windows.

The Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, arrested 12 people, including one individual linked to the attack on the police vehicle, while the Guardia Urbana arrested three. The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, “categorically [condemned] the violent acts in Barcelona following the peaceful protest.” The acting deputy premier of Catalonia, Pere Araonès, said: “Looting and damaging shops, burning down [street] furniture and attacking public workers are not freedom of expression or freedom of protest.”

Flares are lit next to a banner calling for an end to police repression in Girona.
Flares are lit next to a banner calling for an end to police repression in Girona.Toni Ferragut

According to the Mossos d’Esquadra, “250 to 300 people were identified acting violently in groups of 15 and 20 people, in parallel to the bulk of the protesters, who peacefully marched through the center [of the city].” These same sources said that the violent groups were “organized,” explaining “they launched fireworks and used fuel to set fire to the inside of bank offices.”

The demonstrations, which have no visible leader or group backing, were organized on social media. As well as calling for Hasél’s freedom, protesters want all those arrested in the previous nights of unrest to be pardoned. Earlier on Saturday, there were also protests in the Catalan cities of Sabadell, Tarragona, Girona, Terrassa and Lleida, where Hasél was arrested two weeks ago after failing to report to prison.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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