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A Spanish rapper insulted the King. His arrest became a free speech rallying cry.

As debates over free speech and accusations of “cancel culture” proceed to simmer throughout the world, the difficulty final week emerged as a fierce rallying cry on the streets of Spain.

A provocative Spanish rapper became an unlikely figurehead for widespread protests and galvanized a debate about freedom of expression in the European country.

Pablo Hasél’s tweets and lyrics got here again to hang-out him, as the anti-establishment musician was imprisoned final Tuesday on prices of insulting Spain’s monarchy and glorifying terrorism, sparking evening upon evening of protests in main cities throughout the nation, a few of which have turned violent.

Hasél — whose full identify is Pablo Rivadulla Duró — missed a deadline earlier this month to give up to police to serve a nine-month jail time period handed down in 2018, when he was convicted over lyrics and tweets that in contrast Spanish judges to Nazis and referred to as former King Juan Carlos a mafia boss. He additionally made references to the Basque separatist paramilitary group often called ETA, which sought independence from Spain.

Instead, Hasél barricaded himself in a college in the Catalan metropolis of Lleida earlier than he was finally arrested and jailed.

“Tomorrow it could be you,” he tweeted earlier than he was imprisoned and after retweeting the lyrics that he was convicted for.

“We cannot allow them to dictate to us what to say, what to feel and what to do,” he added.

Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel, now imprisoned, poses in Lleida, Spain, final Friday. Pau Barrena / AFP by way of Getty Images

His supporters and those that decry the perceived limits on free speech took to the streets of cities together with the capital, Madrid; Valencia; and Catalonia’s regional capital, Barcelona, the place 1000’s chanted, “Freedom for Pablo Hasél,” and, “No more police violence.”

As tensions flared Saturday, police clashed with members of fringe teams who arrange avenue barricades and smashed storefront home windows in downtown Barcelona.

Pepe Ivorra García, 18, a pupil in the metropolis who joined the protests Thursday evening, mentioned he got here out to peacefully assist Hasél and what he referred to as an “attack” on democratic freedoms which might be “part of the backbone” of the Spanish Constitution.

“I’m neither Catalan, nor pro-independence but I am a democrat,” García advised NBC News. “I humbly consider it to be an embarrassment and a democratic anomaly that in a European country in the 21st century there are prisoners in jail for their ideas.”

Demonstrators smash the window of a financial institution following a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasel in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday.Felipe Dana / AP

Hasél became an unlikely free speech champion after his case drew consideration to Spain’s 2015 Public Security Law. Enacted by a earlier, conservative-led authorities, the regulation prevents insults towards faith, the monarchy and the glorification of banned armed teams equivalent to ETA.

More than 200 artists, together with movie director Pedro Almodóvar and actor Javier Bardem, signed an open letter final week in solidarity with Hasél.

Human rights group Amnesty International Spain additionally condemned the rapper’s imprisonment as a “disproportionate restriction on his freedom of expression.”

The so-called 2015 “gag law” has been a “step backwards” for freedom of expression and peaceable meeting in Spain, mentioned Koldo Casla, a regulation lecturer at England’s University of Essex and former chief of workers of the human rights commissioner of the Basque Country.

“Public authorities were given excessive leeway to impose administrative fines, with chilling effects on peaceful demonstrations,” he advised NBC News.

Casla mentioned though Hasél’s songs might be deemed “cruel or deplorable” they weren’t ample motive to use the legal code. He added that the furor created by his case needs to be a chance for lawmakers “to amend the criminal code to make sure it is compatible with the highest standards of freedom of expression.”

The debate has prompted Spain’s ruling leftist coalition authorities to announce it is going to search to reform the 2015 regulation by introducing milder penalties and giving larger tolerance to artistic and cultural types of expression.

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The Spanish protests, nevertheless, ought to fear neighboring international locations, Patrick Breyer, a member of the European Parliament, advised NBC News. He mentioned Hasél’s case represented an assault on “legitimate dissent” and needs to be of “great concern” to the European Union.

“Spain is going way too far, interpreting and using its anti-terror laws, and I’m afraid it might spill over,” Breyer mentioned. “I think satire, jokes and arts are a very important part of society … and that it’s counterproductive to crack down on this kind of speech, and the same applies to criticism of the police and crown — that’s extremely important in a democracy.”

A demonstrator hits a police van with a bat throughout clashes following a protest condemning the arrest of rap singer Pablo Hasel in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday.Emilio Morenatti / AP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned violence at the protests.

“Democracy protects freedom of speech, including the expression of the most awful, absurd thoughts, but democracy never, ever protects violence,” he mentioned on Friday.

Not all Spaniards are supportive of Hasél’s case.

Rafa Morata, 49, a major college instructor, dismissed the rapper as a “leftist extremist,” telling NBC News his arrest was not about his lyrics or tweets however as a result of he had been “glorifying terrorism.”

“His entry into prison has led to a debate about freedom of expression that his supporters have used to provoke riots in the streets,” Morata mentioned, including that the regulation had unwittingly turned Hasél “into a victim and a hero.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Matthew Mulligan contributed.

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