The arrest of a pro-Catalan independence rapper over his lyrics following a police stand-off has echoes with ongoing censorship in Ireland.
Pablo Hasel was convicted in 2018 and jailed for insulting the Bourbons – Spain’s royal family – the police, and allegedly ‘glorifying terrorism’ in songs and tweets he wrote between 2014 and 2016.
In one he called former king Juan Carlos a mafia boss and compared a Spanish court to the Nazis.
Hasel – real name Pablo Rivadulla Duro – was due to service a nine-month sentence and the deadline for him to voluntarily hand himself in expired on Monday, when he barricaded himself inside a building at the University of Lleida in Catalonia, along with dozens of his supporters.
The case of the 32-year-old is far from isolated – ask rapper Valtonyc, who is in exile, or the prolific tweeter Cassandra Vera.
They said: “There are several interpreters convicted because the law is so broad and dry that anything can be interpreted as a glorification of a terrorist act, even if it occurred a long time ago.”
Pictures of his arrest flooded social media and news outlets as Hasel was led away by police.
However, in one of his final tweets, he remained defiant: “I stayed here without going into exile to contribute more to spreading the message, to the mobilisation and above all to the organisation.”
Before he was bundled away to start a nine-month sentence, Hasél called on supporters to keep “denouncing those guilty of f*cking up so many lives”.
In cities across the country, crowds of demonstrators rioted every night to vent their anger at the rapper’s abduction.
The case has laid bare a deep divide in Spain. Amnesty International, and Spanish celebrities such as Javier Bardem and Pedro Almodóvar, say Hasél’s sentence – and other jailings – are having a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
A week before Hasél’s jailing, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the leftist Podemos party and one of Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, suggested the country had not fully turned the page on the 1939 to 1975 extreme-right dictatorship: “It is obvious that Spain does not have a situation of political and democratic normality,” he said.
There was no justification for a rap lyric ever to require a jail sentence, one judge said, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity.
“I think that is absolutely disproportionate. We are putting it at the same level as stabbing someone.”
The judge said the Hasél case raises deep questions about Spanish society and its relationship to the monarchy.
“Maybe we have very fragile institutions and there is a tendency to overprotect them. Mature societies, after all, can deal with these kinds of criticisms without having to go to courts of law.”