Spain's Pablo Hasel: incendiary rapper jailed for tweets

Hasel has said he has struggled in the past to get a job because of his criminal record
Hasel has said he has struggled in the past to get a job because of his criminal record J. Martin AFP
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Madrid (AFP)

Largely unknown before his legal woes which triggered his arrest Thursday, Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel is notorious for incendiary lyrics and tweets -- and for some, he's a symbol of free speech.

The bearded 32-year-old, who was sentenced to nine months in prison for tweets attacking the monarchy and accusing police of torture and murder, has won backing from several major Spanish artists including film director Pedro Almodovar and Hollywood actor Javier Bardem.

The uproar over his case has even case prompted Spain's Socialist government to pledge an easing of penalties for "crimes of expression" such as the glorification of terrorism, insults to the crown and offending religious sensibilities in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual activities.

Hasel, whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla, was 10 when he discovered rap after hearing "Straight Outta Compton", an iconic album by influential US rappers NWA.

He began recording songs in 2005, often releasing them for free online.

His raw lyrics contain anti-fascist and Marxist themes that often target Spain's royal family, whom he accuses of being the heirs of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

In one song, he talks about dreaming that Spain's former king Juan Carlos I "flies though the air".

"This is not terrorism, he deserves the sky!" the lyrics say.

- 'I vent with the songs' -

In his lyrics and also on Twitter, Hasel has made references to banned guerrilla groups, such as Basque separatist group ETA and Marxist group GRAPO.

ETA, which disbanded in 2018, is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades-long struggle for an independent Basque homeland while GRAPO was blamed for over 80 murders and attempted murders between 1975 and 2003.

"I am a very peaceful person. I hate gratuitous violence, I would love to live in a fair society. Since it isn't, I vent with the songs," he told the newspaper El Periodico in 2018.

"The people who are scandalised by what I sing are not scandalised by the 700 workers who die every year because they are forced to work in unsafe conditions," said Hasel, a reference to Spain's 695 workplace-related deaths in 2019.

He has attacked parties across the political spectrum, from the rightwing Popular Party to far-left Podemos, which has criticised his arrest.

Podemos is the junior partner in Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority coalition government.

- Criminal record -

Hasel was born and raised in Lerida, a city 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Barcelona where he still lives, and his father was once president of the now defunct local football club.

It is not the first time his lyrics have got him into trouble, with Hasel arrested in 2011 for a song praising a convicted GRAPO member.

In 2014, he was handed a two-year sentence for glorifying terrorism for songs lauding ETA, GRAPO and other guerilla groups, but his prison term was suspended on the condition that he didn't reoffend within three years.

Last year, he was handed a six-month prison sentence for pushing and spraying a TV journalist with washing-up liquid.

During his 2018 interview with El Periodico, Hasel said he struggled to get a job because of his criminal record, which forced him to go to France where he picked grapes in "horrible conditions".

"If I end up in jail I will feel freer than ever because I will face my fears and feel very proud. I will wake up each morning with my head held very high," he added.