Riot police have entered a university in the north-eastern Spanish city of Lleida and arrested a rapper who had barricaded himself inside the building to avoid serving a prison sentence for glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty and the police in his lyrics and on social media.

In 2018, Pablo Rivadulla, known as Pablo Hasél, was given a two-year jail sentence and a fine of almost €30,000 (£26,000) after Spain’s highest criminal court ruled that his lyrics and comments went beyond the limits of free speech and were instead expressions of “hatred and attacks on honour”.

The court noted that Hasél had referred to the former Spanish King Juan Carlos as a “drunken tyrant” and a “mafia capo”, praised Eta and other terrorist groups, called the national police “murderers” and accused the Guardia Civil of torturing and murdering migrants.

The sentence was reduced on appeal to nine months, and Hasél was ordered to report to prison at the end of January. But on Monday, the rapper sought refuge in the University of Lleida, saying he wanted “to make things as difficult as possible for the police” and to highlight “a hugely serious attack” on freedom.

Officers from Catalonia’s police force entered the building on Tuesday and arrested the rapper after clearing barricades set up by around 50 of his supporters.

“Long live the struggle!” Hasél said as he was escorted from the university. “We will never stop! They’ll never beat us even with all their repression!”

The rapper’s case has fuelled the debate on freedom of speech in Spain and on the country’s so-called “gag law”. Last week, more than 200 prominent Spanish cultural figures – including Javier Bardem and Pedro Almodóvar – signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with Hasél and calling for a change in the law.

“The persecution of rappers, tweeters, journalist and other representatives of culture and art for trying to exercise their freedom of expression has become incessant,” they wrote.

Their calls came as Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government announced plans to change the law so that “verbal excesses made in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual acts” did not result in prison sentences. A government spokeswoman said it wanted “to provide a much more secure framework for freedom of expression”.

Three years ago, Amnesty International said the law banning “glorification of terrorism” had created a “chilling” environment in which people were afraid to express alternative views or make controversial jokes.

Another Spanish rapper, known as Valtònyc, fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid a three-and-a-half year jail term after being found guilty of distributing songs online that threatened a politician, glorified terrorism and insulted the crown.

The lyrics for which Valtònyc was convicted include “let them be as frightened as a police officer in the Basque country” and “the king has a rendezvous at the village square, with a noose around his neck”.

In March 2018, Spain’s supreme court overturned a 12-month suspended sentence imposed on a student who had been found guilty of “humiliating victims of terrorism” for using Twitter to joke about the murder of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, the Spanish prime minister who was killed in a car bomb attack by the Basque terror group Eta in 1973.

Hasél’s arrest followed growing anger and disgust over a video that showed a young woman making an antisemitic speech during a neo-fascist rally held in Madrid last weekend to honour the Blue Division – the tens of thousands of Spanish volunteers who fought for Hitler in Russia in the early years of the Franco dictatorship.

In the footage, obtained by the online paper La Marea, the woman falsely claims communism was invented by Jewish people to pit workers against one another, adding: “Our highest obligation is to fight for Spain, to fight for Europe, which is now weak and has been eliminated by the enemy. The enemy is always the same, even if he uses different masks: the Jew.”

Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities said the remarks were “unacceptable” in a democratic country and called on prosecutors to open an investigation. Israel’s ambassador to Spain, Rodica Radian-Gordon, also condemned the comments. “The antisemitic words spoken at the tribute to the Blue Division in Madrid are repugnant and can have no place in a democratic society,” she wrote on Twitter.

The regional government of Madrid expressed its “strongest condemnation” and asked prosecutors to investigate whether the comments constituted a hate crime. Late on Tuesday morning, regional prosecutors confirmed they had launched an investigation to “determine, clarify and specify the alleged criminal acts”.

Separately, the Barcelona province prosecutor’s office said it was looking into the campaign for last Sunday’s Catalan election by Vox, a party that mixes Spanish nationalism, populism and an uncompromising stance against illegal migration, after receiving complaints from several Islamic communities.

The groups, representing more than 300 mosques in the north-eastern region, argued that Vox’s #StopIslamization social media campaign, which included a video mixing news about Muslims and an extremist attack in 2017, was slanderous toward Muslims.





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