Spain: Protests erupt after rapper's insults lead to prison

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Joan Mateu Parra

Rap singer Pablo Hasl is detained by police officers at the University of Lleida, Spain, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. A 24-hour standoff between police and a rapper barricaded with dozens of his supporters in a university ended with the arrest of the artist, who has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for insulting the monarchy and praising terrorism. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)

LLEIDA – Violent street protests erupted in some Spanish cities on Tuesday night following the arrest of a rap artist who barricaded himself at a university with dozens of supporters to avoid prison and has portrayed his case as a fight for free speech.

In Barcelona, several thousand protestors set trash cans on fire and threw rocks at the police. Several stores and a bank were damaged amid chaotic scenes on one of the city's main streets. Smaller demonstrations took place in Valencia and Palma de Mallorca, Spanish media reported.

A 24-hour standoff between police and Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél ended Tuesday when anti-riot officers arrested the artist shortly after dawn and escorted him out of Lleida University’s rectorate building. He and more than 50 supporters locked themselves inside the university in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region at midday on Monday.

Hasél was sent to prison, where he's set to serve a 9-month sentence for insulting the monarchy and glorifying terrorism.

The university barricade was the rapper's latest effort to avoid serving his sentence and to draw attention to what he says is a campaign for freedom of expression. He has faced criticism and legal action over some of his statements, includes ones about the monarchy and the need for armed resistance.

“We will win! They will not bend us with all their repression, never!" the 32-year-old rapper said as he passed TV news cameras.

The case of Hasél, whose name at birth is Pablo Rivadulla Duró, has drawn increasing attention in Spain, with many members of the public, artists, celebrities and politicians showing their support and demanding a change in the country's so-called "Gag Law."

Spain’s left-wing coalition government also unexpectedly announced last week that it would change the country’s criminal code to eliminate prison terms for offenses involving freedom of expression. It did not specifically mention Hasél or set a timetable for the changes.