How a rapper’s arrest in Spain sparked riots and fierce debate about freedom of expression Access to the comments

By Luke Hurst
Feb.23, 2021

Every night since last Tuesday, protesters have been taking to the streets of Barcelona and other Spanish cities in their thousands, calling for a rapper’s release from prison.

Pablo Hasél, a previously obscure artist in the Spanish music scene, is now at the centre of a battle over freedom of expression in the country.

He has been jailed for his lyrics and tweets which the courts said glorified terrorism, but he was also charged and found guilty of insulting the royal family and the police.

Since his arrest on February 16 at Lleida University — where he had barricaded himself in with dozens of supporters — protests have been held across Spain, the biggest of which have been in his native Catalonia.

He is set to serve a nine-month prison sentence. The government has said it is looking at changing the law that led to his imprisonment. And amid this, some streets of central Barcelona have turned nightly into something resembling a war zone as protests turned violent.

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