MADRID (Reuters) – Spain will ease its restrictions on free speech, the government said on Tuesday, in response to a nationwide furore over a rapper ordered jailed over a song and tweets.
A change in the law would not by itself prevent the jailing of Pablo Hasel, who has been ordered to surrender by the end of this week to serve a nine-month prison sentence imposed in 2018 under a security law known in Spain as the “gag law”. He has said he will not turn himself in.
Hasel’s lyrics and tweets, which included references to banned guerrilla groups, compared a court to Nazis and called former king Juan Carlos a mafia capo, were found under the 2015 law to have encouraged violence and insulted the monarchy.
More than 200 artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, actor Javier Bardem and singer Joan Manuel Serrat, have signed a petition against Hasel’s jailing, calling for the law to be changed. Hasel’s supporters have demonstrated demanding he not be jailed.
Government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said that in response to the Hasel case, the government had “expressed its willingness to provide a much more secure framework for freedom of expression”. The reform was in its early stages, she said.
In a statement, the leftist coalition government said the reform would introduce milder penalties rather than prison, and target only actions that “clearly involve the creation of a risk to public order or provoke some kind of violent conduct”.
Hasel, who is known for his radical leftist views and whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla, said in a tweet the government was doing nothing to prevent his imprisonment.
“With empty declarations like so many other false promises, they want to extinguish solidarity,” he wrote.
The 2015 law was enacted by a previous, rightwing government, which said it was needed to prevent the glorification of banned armed groups such as the Basque separatists ETA. It bans speech not only for glorifying violence, but also for insulting religions or the monarchy.
Opponents say it has been applied far too restrictively, imposing criminal penalties on legitimate criticism of the state. Amnesty International says around 70 people were convicted under the law in 2018 and 2019.
Another rapper fled to Belgium in 2018 after being sentenced to 3-1/2 years in prison on charges including insulting the monarchy and praising terrorist groups.
The artists’ petition likened Spain to countries such as Turkey or Morocco, where artists have been jailed.
“The imprisonment of Pablo Hasel makes even more evident the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all public figures who dare to publicly criticise the actions of any of the state institutions,” it said.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Peter Graff)