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Dozens arrested as rapper's imprisonment for tweets sparks angry protests over free speech in Spain

Spain sees second night of rioting after rappers arrest
People stage a demonstration against the imprisonment of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel in Madrid on February 17, 2021. Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Madrid — Spanish police arrested almost 50 people Wednesday night amid a second evening of clashes over the jailing of a rapper for a string of tweets insulting police and the monarchy. Angry demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night in Catalonia after police detained Pablo Hasel, 32, who had holed up in a university in the region to try to avoid his jail sentence in a controversial free speech case.

The protests swelled on Wednesday with hundreds gathering under a heavy police presence in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square and calling for his release. The demonstrators in the capital later hurled bottles at police, who charged at them in clashes lasting several hours.

Police said at least 15 people were arrested, but they were due to issue an update on Thursday morning, while the city's emergency services said 55 people were injured, among them 35 police officers.

Demonstration in Barcelona
Protesters gather for a second day for demonstrations against the arrest of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel in Barcelona, Spain February 17, 2021. Adria Puig/Anadolu Agency/Getty

In Barcelona, demonstrators lobbed objects at police and set barricades ablaze, with police firing foam rounds and charging at the protesters.  

Across Catalonia, the Mossos d'Esquadra regional police said 31 people were arrested, including 10 in Barcelona, 14 in Lerida, where Hasel was arrested, five in the northern city of Girona and 2 in Tarragona.

Medics said eight people were slightly injured, and local officials and a human rights organization confirmed that a 19 year-old-woman, a protester, lost an eye after being struck by a foam round fired by police on Tuesday in Barcelona.

At least 15 people had been arrested on Tuesday night in protests in several Catalan cities in which more than 30 people were injured, among them 19 police officers, officials said.

The Mossos Enter The University Of Lleida To Arrest Pablo Hasel, Who Is Locked Up In The Rectorate
The state police forces of Spain's Catalonia region, the Mossos d'Esquadra, arrest rapper Pablo Hasel on February 16, 2020 in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain.  Lorena Sopêna I Lòpez/Getty

Hasel missed a Friday deadline to turn himself in and begin serving a nine-month jail term handed down in 2018. He was convicted of glorifying terrorism and insulting and slandering the monarchy and state security forces after posting a series of tweets calling former king Juan Carlos I a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

Hasel is known for his hard-left views, but his case has become a cause celebre among campaigners, who say that prosecuting him is a dangerous assault on free speech.

His sentence caused outrage in Spain, with stars, including the film-maker Pedro Almodovar and Hollywood actor Javier Bardem, expressing support for his cause.

Amnesty International denounced the move, saying jailing the rapper for song lyrics and tweets was "unjust and disproportionate."

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