Spanish rapper rejects imprisonment to draw focus on gag law

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A rapper in Spain and dozens of his supporters have locked themselves inside a university building in the artist’s latest attempt to avoid a prison sentence for insulting the country’s monarchy and praising terrorism.

The case of Pablo Hasel, 32, has drawn increasing attention in Spain and has been linked to the government’s sudden announcement to change a national law that is deemed to curtail freedom of expression.

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More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar and actor Javier Bardem, signed a petition last week in support of the rapper.

Supporters of rap singer Pablo Hasel make barricades (Joan Mateu/AP)

The artist, whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla Duro, is due to serve a reduced sentence from 2018 of nine months in prison for tweets and songs he posted between 2014 and 2016 criticizing Spain’s royal family and praising a now-defunct Spanish leftist armed extremist group.

“I won’t allow them to tell me what I have to think, feel or say,” Hasel told The Associated Press. “This serves me as an extra stimulus to keep writing the same songs.”

Known mostly for his often radical anti-establishment criticism, he has had previous convictions for assault and praising armed extremist groups although he served no time behind bars after a previous two-year prison term was suspended.

This time his imprisonment seemed imminent. The country’s National Court issued an order for his arrest on Monday after a 10-day period for him to enter prison voluntarily expired on Friday.

But the artist said that he would not go without showing resistance and drawing attention to his case. On Monday, accompanied by some 50 supporters, Hasel barricaded himself inside the rectoral building of Lleida University, in the north-eastern Catalonia region.

Police need special permission — which has been granted in this case — from academic authorities to enter university buildings, which have been the scene of protests in the past.

Defiantly, the rapper tweeted: “They’ll have to break in to take me and jail me.”

He told the AP that Monday’s events were “a call to organise our solidarity and take the pressure out in the streets”.

“There is a lot of solidarity from people who understand that this isn’t just an attack against me,” Hasel added.

“But also against our fundamental democratic liberties. Liberties that are being continuously suppressed by the State. When facing aggression against us we must give a collective answer.”

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

The proposal is rejected by the conservative opposition Popular Party and the far-right Vox party.

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