Violent protests are ongoing in Barcelona nearly a week after rapper Pablo Hasel was jailed for insulting the Spanish monarchy.
Hasel was arrested last Tuesday, February 16, following a 24-hour stand-off at a university just outside the city. Crowds had barricaded themselves inside to protest the issue of free speech.
Authorities had given the rapper until February 12 to hand himself in to police after Spain’s Supreme Court upheld a conviction that he had supported terrorism, and committed libel and slander against the Spanish monarchy. He is set to serve a sentence of nine months.
This week, rioters in Spain smashed windows and launched glass bottles at police as the protests took a violent turn.
One attendee of the protests in Barcelona, Berta Galofré Pons, told CNN police had also started beating protestors.
‘How can you put someone in prison for expressing their ideas?,’ Galofré said.
‘I do not agree with lootings, and there are always people who will take advantage of social movements to cause chaos. The protests were peaceful until the police intervened,’ she added.
Another protestor, Joan Colet, said he saw people split from the main rally group and begin looting shops.
‘A lot of people are taking advantage, they are not here to protest. They have different motives,’ he said.
He added: ‘We are tired of people going to prison for just writing something on social media. This is about the liberty of Pablo, but also Spanish liberty and free speech.’
Since Tuesday, an estimated 80 people have been arrested in connection with the protests and a further 100 injured. On Friday, February 19, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence.
‘In a full democracy, and Spain’s democracy is a full democracy, the use of violence is unacceptable. There is no exception to this rule. There is no reason, place, or situation that can justify the use of force,’ he said.
Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, has urged for calm in the city and asked protestors to remain peaceful.
‘Defending the freedom of expression doesn’t justify in any case the destruction of property, frightening our fellow citizens, and hurting businesses already hurt by the crisis (caused by the pandemic),’ Colau said.
Elsewhere in Spain, protests have also been taking place in Madrid. As a precaution, 300 national police officers were deployed to assist the capital city’s police force, but the protests ended peacefully.
Before Hasel’s arrest, Spain’s government announced it would amend the law and remove prison sentences for crimes involving freedom of expression, however it is unclear if this will affect the rapper’s case.