BARCELONA (Spain) – Thousands of protesters took over some of Barcelona’s streets on Tuesday evening to demand the release of a rapper Pablo Hassel.
Hasel was convicted over lyrics and tweets that included references to the Basque separatist paramilitary group ETA, compared Spanish judges to Nazis and called former king Juan Carlos a mafia boss.
Police stormed Lleida university in northeastern Spain earlier in the day and arrested the rapper after he had barricaded himself there. Hasel, known for his radical leftist views, missed a deadline last Friday to surrender to police to serve a nine-month jail term handed down in 2018.
His sentence had caused an uproar in Spain and led the government to announce it would make free speech laws less restrictive.
After Hasel’s arrest, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told reporters that jailing people over matters of freedom of speech should not happen in a democracy like Spain.
“Victory will be ours. … There will be no forgetting and no forgiving,” Hasel shouted, fist raised, as he was surrounded by police and taken to jail, having several hours earlier retweeted the lyrics for which he was convicted. “Tomorrow it could be you,” Hasel added in a message to his 125,000 followers.
Images showed protesters marching in Barcelona, shouting “Freedom for Pablo Hasel”. Protests also took place in other cities and towns in the Catalonia region.
There were some clashes between protesters and riot police, with images showing rubbish bins on fire, looted shops and objects thrown at officers trying to disperse the crowd, sometimes using batons and foam projectiles.
Mossos d’Escuadra, the Catalan regional police, said on Twitter that protesters burned motorbikes and bins, creating barricades and blocking streets in Barcelona, and that 14 people had been arrested.
More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, actor Javier Bardem and singer Joan Manuel Serrat, signed a petition opposing Hasel’s jail sentence.