Freedom of expression

Podemos calls for a pardon for Hasél: all the reactions against the rapper's imprisonment

The outpouring of solidarity from politicians, artists and institutions is materialised with dozens of demonstrations called throughout Catalonia

5 min
Pablo Hásel at the University of Lleida before being arrested.

BarcelonaNot even half an hour had passed since the arrest of Pablo Hasél and his name was already trending on Twitter. The rapper, who was arrested this morning by the Catalan police, has quickly become a trending topic with a multitude of messages calling for his release and in defence of freedom of expression

The Plataforma Llibertat Pablo Hasél highlighted the "unprecedented" media echo that his arrest caused, after being locked up for almost a whole day in the building of the rectorate of the University of Lleida. One of its members, David Martín, believes that this image "has hurt the state" and that it has made "a very serious mistake" because it has generated "the opposite effect to the one they intended" among the population, who will now participate in the many demonstrations called to denounce the facts. He also highlighted the international echo the case has had. Even so, Brussels has refused to assess the arrest. "It is a matter for the Spanish justice system," said the European Commission's justice spokesperson, Christian Wigand, when asked about the implications it could have on the freedom of expression of artists in Spain. The European executive "does not comment on judicial proceedings of member states," he said.

Support among politicians

Catalan Government spokeswoman Meritxell Budó reacted on Tuesday to the imprisonment of rapper Hasél by saying that the state "represses" everyone who says what it "doesn't like to hear". She denounced that Spain is the state that "persecutes artists the most". The former president Quim Torra has also expressed his solidarity with the musician, as has the consellera of Culture, Àngels Ponsa, who has denounced all convictions against artists. The vice president and presidential candidate, Pere Aragonès, said that "the Penal Code is absolutely anachronistic, because it persecutes freedom of expression and protects the Crown more than citizens". In an interview to TV3, he pointed out that this strengthens them in their "republican convictions and in the need to turn the page on a Spanish state that still maintains that singing songs is a crime". The secretary general of Junts per Catalunya, Jordi Sànchez, said on Catalunya Ràdio that "the arrest of Pablo Hasél is further proof of the intolerance that has been taking hold of judicial bodies and a large part of Spanish politicians". Raül Romeva has denounced "the State as a cage". Carles Riera (CUP) has encouraged people to take to the streets to "defend democratic rights and freedoms".

Reactions have also come from Madrid. From the ranks of Más País in the Spanish Parliament, Íñigo Errejón has stated that the Spanish government is already "taking too long to grant a pardon" to Hasél. "We have seen tweets from ministers. Fewer tweets and more pardons," he said at a press conference from the lower house, in which he stressed that Spain is the country that has the most artists behind bars for the content of their songs and for having expressed their opinions. Errejón has denounced the double standard that exists in the Spanish state, according to his criteria, after about 200 people held a neo-Nazi demonstration against the Jewish community on Sunday.

Errejón was referring to the message of the minister Alberto Garzón, but also to Podemos and Pablo Iglesias, who have also spoken out. Hours later Podemos announced that it would ask for a pardon for Hasél and a request for the reform of the Penal Code has been submitted. The minister Carmen Calvo has simply said that "the government does not comment on judicial decisions" but that "works to review the crimes that may infringe on freedom of expression. Calvo added that in art, we need ample understanding and mature tolerance.

Valtònyc and other artists, indignant

There have also been hundreds of reactions from the culture industry. This is not surprising, as Pablo Hasél is the first musician to go to prison after the dictatorship for the lyrics of his songs. For the cartoonist Manel Fontdevila, who also suffered censorship in satirical El Jueves, Hasél "going to prison for saying things is barbaric": "And he hasn't said that anyone should be killed, he's just made some off-color metaphors. Hasel is an artist, not a politician. He has no position of power, he has no capacity to make laws. It's not the same thing for Quim Torra to say something as it is for a singer. It is nonsense, just as it was when El Jueves was sentenced. It is their way of trying to stop people from saying things that are institutionally unacceptable," he told ARA.

Another musician who has been tried for his songs, the Mallorcan rapper Valtònyc, who went into exile to avoid prison, said: "It could be me if I hadn't gone into exile". He lamented that "artists are imprisoned in a European democracy": "Spain is the shame of the world and Josep Borrell has his work cut out for him". Valtònyc has been skeptical about the promise of reform to avoid cases like his or Hasél's: "I don't think it's anything more than an attempt to wash their faces before the elections, I hope they don't forget now". If it goes ahead, Valtònyc will ask for a review of his sentence of three and a half years in prison for insulting the Crown, glorification of terrorism and threats. He is currently facing a European arrest warrant in Belgium for this case.

Institutions call for freedom of expression

As a result of the arrest and imprisonment of Pablo Hasél, cultural institutions such as the Teatre Lliure, Mercat de les Flors, Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, L'Auditori, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Palau de la Música Catalana have made an appeal: "We reaffirm and reiterate our commitment to freedom of expression and respect for the fundamental rights of creators". In a joint communiqué, they also support "people whose rights are violated" and recall "the innate transgressive value of culture". "Therefore, let us make our own the words 'Without freedom of expression, there is no democracy', which in 1978 Fabià Puigserver painted in a poster known to all, and that today have more meaning than ever." Barcelona University's rector has also condemned the incarceration.

Rallies called in protest against the arrest

As a result of the arrest of Pablo Hasél, this afternoon demonstrations have been called in protest against his imprisonment. At the moment there are 55 across the country. The demonstration in Barcelona will begin at 7pm in Plaça Lesseps. In Lleida the demonstration will also be at seven o'clock and will leave from the Plaça de la Catedral. In Vic it has been called at half past seven in the Plaça Major. In Girona the call is at seven o'clock in the Plaça Primer d'Octubre. At the same time there will also be rallies in Tarragona (at the Estàtua dels Despullats), in Sabadell (Plaça Sant Roc), in Sant Cugat (Plaça Lluís Millet), in Reus (Plaça Mercadal), in Tortosa (Plaça Barcelona) and in La Seu d'Urgell (Plaça dels Oms).