Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél was arrested Tuesday after a 24-hour standoff between him and his free speech supporters on one side and Catalan anti-riot police on the other.
Along with more than 50 supporters, Hásel barricaded himself in rectorate building of Lleida University, located some 160 kilometers west of Barcelona, to resist reporting to serve a prison sentence and to campaign for free speech.
“We will win! They will not bend us with all their repression. Never!” the 32-year-old rapper yelled to TV news cameras during his arrest.
Hasél, whose birth name is Pablo Rivadulla Duró, has gained attention across Spain for demanding a change to the country’s so-called “Gag Law.” The 2015 legislation, called the Citizen Safety Law, imposes fines for protesting in front of parliament or taking and sharing photographs of police officers. The law became more restrictive during Spain’s mandatory coronavirus quarantine, according to the country’s newspaper El País.
Over 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodóvar and actor Javier Bardem, signed a petition against his jail term. Amnesty International condemned Hasél's arrest as “terrible news for freedom of expression in Spain.”
Last week, the left-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced it would change Spain’s criminal code to eliminate prison terms for free speech offenses. But the government did not specify when it would take action or whether Hasél’s protests inspired the changes.
This is not the first time Hasél has clashed with law enforcement. He has faced charges on at least four occasions for assault, praising armed extremist groups, breaking into private premises or insulting the country's monarchy. In 2014, he was given a two-year sentence, which was suspended, for a song criticizing former King Juan Carlos. In 2018, he was sentenced to nine months in jail for 64 tweets he posted between 2014 and 2016 calling for insurrection.
Spain’s National Court rejected his appeals to be kept out of prison, alleging it would be “discriminatory” to do so.
Overnight, Hasél tweeted that he chose to go to prison instead of seeking exile.
“We cannot allow them to dictate what we can say, what we can feel or what we can do,” he said. “They will arrest me with my head up high for not giving in to their terror, for adding my grain of salt to everything I am saying. We all can do it.”