(New York, NY) – The Tuesday arrest of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél, in connection to the content of his song lyrics and social media posts, represents a violation of the right to freedom of expression and the need for the immediate reformation of Spain’s laws criminalizing speech, PEN America said today. In the days since his arrest, protests calling for Hasél’s freedom have engulfed Catalonia and other parts of Spain, resulting in the arrests of at least 80 people.

Spanish police detained Hasél on Tuesday after storming the university where he had been barricaded with supporters. Hasél had been required to present himself to authorities the previous Friday after the Spanish supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision to sentence him to nine months in prison for song lyrics and social media posts “that denigrated various institutions while also dedicating phrases glorifying certain people convicted of terrorism.” Hasél may also face an additional two and a half years on separate charges of obstructing justice and assault in 2017.

“Let us be clear: Pablo Hasél was arrested for his political expression, under a law that poses an obvious and continuing threat to artistic freedom in Spain,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “This arrest sends a chilling message to every artist, activist, and resident of Spain: If you make music or espouse ideas that the government considers anathema, you may find yourself in prison. Not only should Hasél’s conviction be vacated, but the Spanish government should immediately move to reform or remove its Citizen Safety Law to be consistent with international guarantees of freedom of expression.”

Known for his far-left views, Hasél was arrested under the 2015 Citizen Safety Law, commonly referred to as the “gag law,” which PEN America has previously warned is contributing to shrinking the space for dissenting opinions in Spain, particularly in Catalonia. The evidence against Hasél has included lyrics from his music, as well as a series of tweets that criticized former king Juan Carlos I and accused police of brutality against protestors and immigrants, as well as others that referenced now-defunct leftist paramilitary and terrorist groups like The October First Anti-Fascist Resistance Group and the ETA, which fought for Basque independence. 

Other artists like Hasél have been prosecuted under the Citizen Safety Law, including rapper Valtònyc and rap collective La Insurgencia. After more than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar and actor Javier Bardem, signed a petition against Hasél’s jailing, the Government announced its intention to ease the law’s applications in cases of free expression, although critics question whether this will come to fruition.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.