Freedom of speech in Spain – Struggle for the case of Pablo Hasel

Via Inspiring City

Street artists in Barcelona have been showing their support for rapper Pablo Hasel. The singer has been at the heart of a controversy in Spain in a case which cuts to the heart of rules around freedom of speech. Showing support for Pablo Hasel, artists took to the streets. They created a number of murals at the Parque de las Tres Chimeneas in the city on Sunday 7th of February. The initiative i s repeated this Sunday 21st February.

Artwork by Reskate

Pablo Hasel faces prison for “glorifying terrorism and insulting crown and state institutions”. A singer and activist, he was originally convicted to two years and one day in prison in March 2018 by the Spanish High Court. This was later reduced on appeal to nine months and one day. The judge at this point said his messages did “not pose a real risk to anyone”. This was a decision upheld by the Spanish supreme court in May 2020.

Free Speech in Spain

At the heart of Pablo Hasel’s conviction were 64 messages he shared on twitter between 2014 and 2016. It also referenced a song he shared on youtube. He was convicted under a 2015 statute known as the ‘gag’ law in Spain. His lyrics were found under that law “to have encouraged violence and insulted the monarchy”. It is something which has been controversial in the country. The law itself “bans speech not only for glorifying violence, but also for insulting religions or the monarchy”.

Free Pablo Hasel mural in Barcelona‘Free Hasel’ Mural by Sigrid Amores, Tres Voltes Rebel, Arte Porvo and Elna Or

One of the artists applying detail to Pablo’s face

The case comes at a time when the state itself has been looking at ending prison terms for alleged crimes involving free speech. As a result it is something which has stirred strong emotions in Spain. Pablo Hasel himself is a figure well known already. He has had run ins with the law and state before. Previously he was convicted in 2015 for lyrics which expressed similar sentiments. Originally he was due to serve two years for those offences though he never actually went to prison. It was partly this which led the judges in the later case to enforce the prison sentence for his later conviction.

Freedom of Speech

A petition protesting against the imprisonment has gained traction in artistic circles. Saying that “the imprisonment of Pablo Hasel makes the sword hanging over the heads of all public figures who dare to openly criticize the actions of state institutions all the more evident. We are aware that if we allow Pablo to be jailed, tomorrow they could come after any one of us, until they have managed to stifle any whisper of dissidence”. The filmmaker Pablo Almodovar and actor Javier Bardem have come out in support of it.

Wanting to show their own solidarity with Hasel, street artists in the city created a series of artworks. The location in the Parque de las Tres Chimeneas is a well known skate park and graffiti hall of fame. Street art is a regular sight here and the walls are generally open to paint on. Many of the artists have used the Catalan expression LLibertat D’Expressio which means ‘Freedom of Expression’. It is very much this sentiment which has prompted the artists to show such a public support.

‘LLibertat D’Expressio’ painted by Owen translates to Freedom of Expression in Catalan

Political Murals

Of all the Spanish institutions it is the crown which seems to be most prominent in the mind of the street artists. The gag law specifically seeks to ban criticism of the monarchy. It’s something which is unacceptable to many especially in Catalan which is a fiercely independent state. Many of the murals feature King Juan Carlos prominently. One piece from Roc Blackblock was painted over by the Barcelona authorities soon after it was painted. It showed the king with the word ‘Ladron’ or ‘thief’ pinned to his head. Words describing him as an ‘elephant killer‘ and ‘son of a dictator’ were written around it. Barcelona city council have since apologised for removing the piece.

Mural by Roc Blackbook showing King Juan Carlos and the word 'thief' written on his head
A satirical mural showing King Juan Carlos of Spain from Roc Blackblock
Mural painted by Roc Blackblock at the paint jam in Barcelona

There were a number of other deeply political murals. One from artists Reskate and Chamo San showed the king waving from behind bars. Another from Cinta Vidal showed the king with a roller painting over an image of Pablo Hasel as if to erase him. A piece from Galleta Maria meanwhile showed a double headed snake. It had the heads of the monarchy and the judiciary coiling around the mouth of a woman. The symbolism is clear in that they are combining to prevent her from speaking.

Mural by Cinta Vidal – Foto Fer Alcala

Reskate & Chamo San mural showing King Juan Carlos waving behind bars. It says ‘ LLibertat D’Expressio’ which means ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Catalan

A crowd gathers to watch the mural painting

The artist Maga by her crown piece showing a man behind bars in the shadows behind

Pablo Hasel graffiti by the artist Kader in Barcelona
Kader’s graffiti piece saying ‘Pablo Hasel’ and shows a hanged man holding a microphone and holding what appears to be a keyring. On the keyring hangs an upside down crown

Galleta Maria piece showing a double headed snake. The snake seems to represent the crown and the judiciary whilst it coils itself around the mouth of a woman

Galleta Maria applying detail to her piece


Location of the next graffiti jam on Sunday 21st for freedom of speech and in support of Pablo Hasel:

Posted in Blog, Cinta Vidal and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .