Spain arrests 80 in 3 nights of riots over rapper's jailing

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A demonstrator throws a stone against police during clashes following a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasl in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Protests over the imprisonment of a rapper convicted for insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence have morphed for the third night in a row into rioting. Pablo Hasl began this week to serve a 9-month sentence in a northeastern prison. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

MADRID – Protests over the imprisonment of a rapper convicted of insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence were marred by rioting for the third night in a row Thursday.

The plight of Pablo Hasél, who began this week to serve a 9-month sentence in a northeastern prison, has triggered a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper's supporters and the police.

The ruling coalition's junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, on Thursday filed a petition for a “total pardon” for Hasél and another rapper, Valtònyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of “glorifying” terrorism.

But potentially deepening the tension, court authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region announced that Hasél lost a recent appeal and is looking at an additional prison sentence of 2 1/2 years for obstructing justice and assault in 2017. The sentence can be appealed again before the country's Supreme Court.

Like the two previous nights, the protests began Thursday with large gatherings in several cities that were, at first, mostly peaceful.

In Catalonia's regional capital, Barcelona, hundreds sang songs, rapped and shouted “Pablo Hasél, freedom!" and “Spanish media, manipulators!” at a central square before dozens broke off the main group to set alight a barricade of trash containers and a construction skip that blocked a main city artery, hurling stones, bottles and other objects at riot police.

There were moments of tension as flames threatened to extend to nearby buildings before firefighters arrived.

In the eastern coastal city of Valencia, police used batons to disperse protesters and arrested at least eight people, according to the Spanish government's regional delegation.