29th Sep 2023

Jailing of rapper spotlights Spain's free-speech row

  • Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel barricaded himself inside a university to avoid a jail term (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

Dozens of Spanish police on Tuesday (16 February) arrested a musician who had locked himself, together with a group of supporters, in a university in Catalonia - in a bid to avoid prison for insulting state institutions and praising terrorism on social media.

Pablo Rivadulla, known as Pablo Hasél, was convicted in 2018 to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of almost €30,000, but an appeals judge later reduced his jail term to nine months because his messages did not "pose a real risk".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Spain's highest criminal court ruled that some 64 tweets he posted between 2014 and 2016 and a song he shared on YouTube were expressions of "hatred and attacks on honour" - which fall outside the scope of freedom of expression.

The messages include references to the former king Juan Carlos as a "mafia capo", praised left-wing terrorist group GRAPO, compared Spanish judges to Nazis, and named law enforcement "murderers".

"We cannot allow ourselves to be dictated what to say, what to feel, and what to do," Hasél tweeted a few hours before his arrest.

"[These are] the tweets they will jail me for within minutes or hours," he also added in a message to his 125,000 followers on Twitter, warning that "tomorrow it could be you".

Over 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodóvar, have signed a petition in support of the Spanish rapper, arguing that his imprisonment "leaves the sword hanging over the heads of all public figures who dare to openly criticise the actions of state institutions".

"We are aware that if we allow Pablo to be jailed, tomorrow they could come after any one of us, until they have managed to silence any sigh of dissidence," reads the petition.

'Glorifying terrorism'

Other artists and activists have also been convicted for "glorifying terrorism" in Spain in recent years.

In 2018, another rapper, Valtònyc, was given a three-and-a-half-year sentence, but he fled to Belgium, where a court has refused to extradite him.

Following the adoption of the 2017 EU's counter-terrorism directive, which criminalises conduct seen to "glorify" terrorism, rights groups have warned that "glorifying terrorism" is vaguely defined in most national laws - narrowing the boundaries of freedom of offline and online speech across Europe.

"Spain is certainly one of the countries in Europe where counter-terrorism laws have been used the most to target artists," said Marco Perolini of Amnesty International.

However, according to Perolini, laws criminalising glorification and apology of terrorism are not proportionate to threats to national security because "they are too vague and could lead to the arrest, prosecution and convictions of people simply for their exercise of freedom of expression"

'Gag law' reform

Meanwhile, the sentencing of Hasél has triggered a wave of criticism against Spain's ruling socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez, who said previously in 2018 that the reform of the Public Security Law - commonly known as the "gag law" - was one of his main priorities.

The law, enacted in 2015 by the previous administration, bans the glorification of groups such as ETA, insults against the Crown and religion, but it also establishes fines for taking and sharing photographs of police officers.

Last week, the left-wing coalition government unexpectedly announced reform of the gag law, aiming to target only actions that "clearly create a risk to public order or encourage some kind of violent conduct".

"The [justice] ministry's proposal will consider that verbal excesses made as part of artistic, cultural or intellectual manifestations should remain outside the scope of criminal punishment," the government said in a statement earlier this month.

So far, the proposal has been rejected by the conservative Popular Party and far-right Vox.

For its part, the European Commission's spokesperson service refused to comment on the imprisonment of Hasél.

EU terror law risks making protest a crime

An anti-terror bill is likely to sail through the EU parliament in December, despite serious concerns raised by rights groups over its broad understanding of what constitutes terrorism.

Conservatives' Covid-strategy wins in lockdown-fatigue Madrid

Madrid conservative leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso has become a political phenomenon mainly because of her success in keeping Madrid open during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, critics accuse her of neglecting health services - while only protecting businesses.


Two lessons worth learning from the Catalan elections

The stubborn fact is that, election after election - and it's already three consecutive absolute majorities - anti-independence forces cannot convince the majority of Catalans that our democratic rights and a better future can be attained within the Spanish kingdom.


How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.

Latest News

  1. Poland's culture of fear after three years of abortion 'ban'
  2. Time for a reset: EU regional funding needs overhauling
  3. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  4. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  5. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  6. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  7. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  8. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us