Spanish musician jailed for anti-government lyrics as CoE calls for changes to so-callled "Gag Law"

Spanish musician jailed for anti-government lyrics as CoE calls for changes to so-callled "Gag Law"
Protests erupted over the arrest of the Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél (Photo by Joan Amengual / VIEWpress).


Despite the extended state of alarm, the coronavirus infection rate in Spain continues to rise at an accelerating rate. On 12th March 2021, the country scored second on the list of European countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The Health Minister Carolina Darias has described the situation in the country as the beginning of the fourth wave of the pandemic, admitting that the efforts focusing on 'saving the Christmas' during the third wave in December were a mistake that caused a sharp increase in cases.

Peaceful Assembly

Catalonia brought pro-independence leaders back to jail

As reported previously, in December 2020 the Spanish Supreme Court revoked the Catalan government's decision to grant several of Catalonia’s jailed separatist leaders a “Grade 3” prison regime rating, which allows convicts to leave prison for several hours per day and spend weekends at home. Despite the decision of the Supreme Court, in January 2021 the Catalonian government again agreed to award the leaders Grade 3 status. However, after an appeal by the Prosecutor's Office, the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) confirmed the position of the Supreme Court in December 2020, describing the decision to transfer the prisoners to the third grade as "hasty" and "premature".

As a result, on 9th March 2021, the nine leaders of the 2017 breakaway attempt in Catalonia have returned to jail to serve their sentences under the standard “Grade 2” regime.

The leader of the 2017 secession attempt, former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, is still in Belgium. In early March 2021, the European Parliament voted to lift Puigdemont’s immunity (that he has had as an MEP), and without parliamentary immunity he may face extradition to Spain in the near future.

Madrid prohibited all Women’s Day assemblies

Foreseeing demonstrations devoted to International Women's Day, authorities in Madrid prohibited protests for the 7th and 8th March 2021 for public health safety reasons, banning all 104 requests. Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain criticised the authorities’ conduct:

“The general prohibition of all concentrations and demonstrations on the occasion of 8M in Madrid is a disproportionate limitation to the right to peaceful assembly established in international law. Each petition must be evaluated individually. The authorities must carry out a case-by-case evaluation, which considers what measures can be adopted to prevent contagion, without the need to prohibit the demonstration in its entirety." (Translation from Spanish)”

Nevertheless, as El Pais reports, 50 women went on to demonstrate in Madrid, while others applauded from their balconies and windows and rode down the central street on bicycles. There is no information on detentions, police brutality against protesters or fines for breaching the COVID-19 regulations. In Barcelona, thousands of women protested, holding signs such as “respect my existence or expect resistance”. However, the protest was disrupted when a man pepper sprayed five women who were taking part in the protest. The man was detained by police.

Citizen assembly for climate

On 26th March 2021, Extinction Rebellion Spain formed a human chain outside the offices of the Ministries of Health and Social Rights and Agenda 2030 to demand the creation of a Citizen Assembly for the Climate.

“We want a citizen assembly in which we talk about the important things that are affecting our lives right now, and these have a lot to do with the environmental crisis we are experiencing," said Javier de la Casa, from Extinction Rebellion during the blockade.

Police began to forcefully remove protesters from the human chain after an hour and a half. Since they had formed a human chain with tubes, police physically lifted protesters to remove them.


Spanish musician jailed for anti-government lyrics

On 27th February 2021, protests erupted across Spain over the recent arrest of the Spanish rapper known as Pablo Hasél (Pablo Rivadulla). The musician was detained and given a nine-month prison sentence for glorifying the terrorist groups ETA and GRAPO in 2018 and insulting the Crown and state institutions on Twitter and in a song posted on YouTube. (Hasél was originally sentenced to two years in prison, later reduced to nine months.)

"The jailing of Pablo Hasél for his lyrics and tweets is yet another example of the Spanish authorities’ silencing of artistic voices. Democracies don't jail poets, even if the words they express are disturbing or uncomfortable. It is astonishing that Spain has just done that. Peaceful expression, even when it seems insulting or disrespectful, must never be criminalised. The Spanish authorities must release Pablo Hasél at once", said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Protests erupted for a week every evening after the rapper's arrest. Multiple clashes broke out, stores and buildings were damaged and more than 100 people arrested. The Andalusian Human Rights Association (APDHA) reports that there was "a disproportionate use of force, unjustified use of extendable police batons, the use of the endowment defence known as a truncheon, and the dragging of a person on the ground" during some of the arrests in Linares.

One of the demonstrators, William Aitken, remained in jail more than a month after his arrest and was released in March 2021 due to "insufficient evidence to justify keeping him behind bars before the trial."

It has also been reported that several journalists covering the protest in the city of Valencia were hit with police batons, despite the fact that they could easily have been identified as members of the press. In addition, on 21st February 2021, a photojournalist was physically assaulted by a protester as he was covering a demonstration. The Union of Valencian Journalists (UPV) condemned the “disproportionate police action” against the journalists.

In this case, at least two colleagues from 'À Punt' and 'València Extra', to whom we give our full support, have publicly denounced having suffered the police charges despite identifying themselves as journalists. We consider that they are inadmissible facts that must be investigated by the Government Delegation in the Valencian Community.” (translated from Spanish).

The Venice Commission concludes Spain must change the so-called "Gag Law"

Following the events around the arrest of Pablo Hasél, on 11th March 2021, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, wrote a letter to the Spanish Minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Campo, inviting Spanish authorities to strengthen existing safeguards to the right to freedom of expression and introduce amendments to the Criminal Code. Mijatović noted that in the last few years a growing number of criminal convictions have been handed down to artists for controversial lyrics and other performances, and to social media activists for statements considered offensive under various provisions of the Penal Code. In her letter she asked the Minister “for recent information indicating that your government intends to amend some aspects of the Criminal Code, in particular the offence of glorification of terrorism, to ensure a better protection of freedom of expression.”

In his reply, Minister Campo informed Commissioner Mijatović that the Spanish government is already working on the issue:

"Although the proposal that we want to present is still being subject to study and does not have a finished wording, we have announced the main aspects that we would like to review. In general terms, our purpose is, on the one hand, to define more clearly what is the conduct sanctioned in these crimes and, on the other, adjust the penalties to the seriousness of the conduct. We intend thereby to guarantee greater legal certainty and at the same time avoid the reviled disincentive effect that may occur on the exercise of a right as important as freedom of expression."

In a related development, in March 2021, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe adopted an opinion on the so-called "Gag Law" (Citizen's Security Law), emphasising that it has a "repressive potential".

According to the information gathered by Amnesty International Spain, during the first state of alarm from 14th March to 23rd May 2020, more than one million complaints were filed against the misuse of Article 36.6 of the "Gag Law" ("disobedience or resistance to the authority or its agents in the exercise of their functions").

Incidents against journalists

  • Several Spanish journalists and media directors have been subjected to civil and criminal lawsuits by the grandchildren of General Francisco Franco after they reported on the Spanish dictator’s inheritance and wealth in July 2018. Those involved include the programme directors of TV station Cuatro, Juan Serrano and Lorena Correa; three reporters, Pablo de Miguel, Juan Carlos González and Carla Sanz; and two investigative journalists, Mariano Sánchez Soler and Jorge Otero Bada. The family alleges that the broadcast tarnishes their honour and family image and led to "a situation of hostility, inciting discrimination, hatred or violence" against them.
  • On 23rd January 2021, during a protest against government’s COVID-19 measures in Madrid, the media crew for La Sexta TV in Spain was verbally attacked and physically obstructed from reporting on the protest. One protester damaged the crew’s equipment by spraying a camera lens with black paint.
  • On 14th February 2021, during Catalonia’s parliamentary election, unknown arsonists damaged broadcasting property of the Spanish public broadcaster Corporación de Radio y Televisión Española (RTVE) in Catalonia. The fire damage temporarily interrupted radio and TV broadcasts on the day. RTVE condemned the acts of vandalism that “tried to compromise telecommunications in full election day in Catalonia”. Police are investigating the matter.
  • During counter demonstrations held in response to the election campaign event by leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, photojournalist Joan Gálvez was shot at point blank range with non-lethal detonation ammunition by Catalan police. During the incident, Gálvez was wearing an armband which identified him as a journalist. Gálvez did not suffer any injuries.
  • On 17th March 2021 journalists reporting live from a so-called press conference organised by far-right Vox party in the southern city of Sevilla were verbally attacked and harassed by some of the Vox supporters as they filmed the crowd and interviewed participants. One female journalist, Marta Maldonado from daily newspaper La Razón, was called a “whore” and a “slut” by supporters.