The Hasél protests and Spain’s crackdown on dissent

The youth are revolting. Four nights of protests, starting in Catalonia and spreading across Spain, has brought the wrath of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez: “The government will act forcefully against any form of violence,” he declared on Friday. Spain’s press has hyped up the damage caused by the “riots”, but it is one of the protestors who has lost an eye, hit by a rubber bullet of the Catalan police. It’s the youth of the Spanish state who bleed.


Take a step back from the fray, and why would one be surprised? Youth unemployment stands at over 40%, the highest in the EU. For those young people lucky enough to be in work, two out of three have precarious temporary contracts. Add in to the mix a year of chaotic lockdown, and one should be relieved to see the youthful vitality of dissent on the streets. Better the pulse of resistance, is it not, than a generation unseen, lost in their parents’ homes to nihilistic despair?

Neither is it to be unexpected that the motivation for revolt has come from artistic repression. If young people have little future to look forward too, at least they can find solace in cultural expressions which give flavour to their frustrations. When the state tells them that not only is musical dissent impermissible, but that some of their favourite musicians will be locked up for taking aim at such institutional figures as the country’s self-exiled former King, it’s more than reason enough to take to the streets.

“There is an accumulated rage among young people,” Núria Araüna Baro, activist and trade unionist in Barcelona, tells Bella Caledonia. “The social situation, judicial repression, police brutality – all of this interacts together.”

Hasél was a “trigger”

Pablo Hasél (real name Pablo Rivadulla Duró), a Catalan radical leftist rapper, was arrested on Tuesday [16 February] after barricading himself in the University of Lleida. Hasél had refused to go to jail after being sentenced in March 2018 to two years in prison relating to his tweets and songs, which were deemed to be “glorification of terrorism”, slander and libel against the Crown and against the institutions of the State. With additional sentences now added on for alleged threats to witnesses, obstruction of justice and non-payment of fines, Hasél is now set for six and a half years behind bars.

Pep Tarradas i Dulcet, a member of the Music Union of Catalonia (SMAC) and the ‘No Callarem’ (‘we will not be silent’) platform, tells Bella Caledonia that Hasél’s imprisonment was a “trigger” for resistance to “the repression of artists”.

Pep highlights “the case of the rapper Valtònyc, the tweeter Cassandra, Elgio from “la Insurgencia”, the puppeteers who went to prison for a work that denounced police brutality”.

Indeed, a 2020 study on the state of artistic freedom by the NGO Freemuse found that Spain was number one in the world for repressing musicians, with 14 given prison sentences, ahead of Iran on 13, Turkey on nine and Myanmar on eight.

Asked if the Catalan artistic community felt under pressure from the state, including to self-censor artistic work, Pep says: “Yes, of course. Self-censorship is one of the main dangers we face as artists, but that is why in this context there have been movements such as “No Callarem”.

“We understand that it is necessary to say things by its name. Pablo Hasél does not go to prison for ‘injuries to the Crown’ or for ‘exaltation of terrorism’, he goes to prison for freely expressing truths and realities of this demophobic state that condemns dissent.”

Hasél’s “crimes”

While Hasél’s sentencing is by no means an isolated case in Spain, it does set a precedent, being the first time someone has gone to prison specifically for their lyrics since the end of General Franco’s dictatorship.

The court found that the song “Juan Carlos el Bobón”, about the former King Juan Carlos, who is being investigated for alleged corruption, “exceed[s] the right to freedom of expression or opinion” and goes past “the line that separates expressions that can hurt or bother”, because Hasél’s words are a “clear and serious attacks on the honour of the royal family”.

In the song, Hasél raps about “the millions plundered” by the monarchy, and adds: “Then the psychopaths who govern us say that there is no money for basic necessities”.

Sixty-four tweets of Hasél’s were also judged by the court to “appear as a suitable means to arouse violent reactions, undermine confidence in democratic institutions, feed the feeling of contempt and hatred against institutions and denigrate the dignity of people”.


Shortly before his arrest, Hasél posted some of the tweets that the court had cast their judgement on, stating: “The tweets for which I am going to be imprisoned in a few minutes or hours. Literally for explaining reality. Tomorrow it could be you”.

Here’s a flavour of some of the 64 tweets:

  • “50 policemen injured? These fucking mercenaries bite their tongues beating up people and say they are wounded”;
  • “Nazi-onal police torturing even in front of the cameras”,
  • “Because of Saudi Arabia the children in Yemen suffered like this. This is the work of the democrat friends of the mafioso Borbóns.” [includes a picture of a malnourished child]
  • “You kill a policeman? They’re looking for you under every stone. The police kill? It’s not even investigated properly”
  • “they try to hide the fact that many people have come out today to demand the end of the fascist monarchy and they even beat up journalists.”
  • “Joseba Arregi (ex-military chief of ETA) assassinated by the police by torturing him.”

Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain, said of Hasél’s case: ”No one should face criminal prosecution only for expressing themselves on social media or for singing something that may be distasteful or shocking. Expressions that do not clearly and directly incite violence cannot be criminalised.”

The Spanish state’s repressive apparatus

Hasél has fallen foul of Spain’s Penal Code, but his sentence comes in the context of a wider crackdown on dissent, especially emerging from the ’law on Citizen Security’, more widely known as ‘The Gag Law’, introduced in 2015 by the right-wing Popular Party (PP).

The Gag Law hands out fines ranging between €100 to €600,000 for such misdeeds as protesting without permission or in the wrong place, taking pictures of police officers at demonstrations, or seeking to prevent law enforcement from evicting people from their homes. Even promoting a protest on social media can incur a penalty. Indeed, the use of the gag law has multiplied many-fold during Spain’s lockdown, as the police use their new found powers to exercise petty lockdown control-freakery.

The left-of-centre PSOE-Podemos coalition government in Madrid has said it wants to get rid of most parts of the gag law, just as it’s said it wants to reform the penal code so the likes of Hasél won’t go to prison, but under it’s watch the criminalisation of dissent has worsened.

While the gag law was the PP’s creation, PSOE’s hands are not clean. Indeed, we only have to go back a year and a half to remember PSOE’s use of the dark arts in ‘The Scotland Papers’, as reported in Bella Caledonia. More recently, Reporters Without Borders have criticised the Spanish Government for introducing a law supposedly aimed at combating “disinformation” but “which, in reality, are designed to erode press freedom by means of a deliberate ambiguity,” according to RSF. In July, it was revealed that the Catalan Parliamentary speaker, Roger Torrent, had his WhatsApp hacked in to by an Israeli Spyware company, NSO, which only sells its services to governments.

Pedro Sánchez may talk a good game about liberal democracy, but his state’s actions are a reminder that PSOE has always been a key party in the Spanish establishment since the weak transition from dictatorship to democracy began following Franco’s death. Governing for more years than any other party since then, PSOE’s fingerprints are all over the repressive characteristics on display today that have always been a hallmark of the ’78 regime.

Spain’s authoritarian right-wing

Behind Sánchez’s hard-line on the protestors is pressure from Spain’s right-wing, who sense an opportunity to open up divisions within the PSOE-Podemos government. The far-right Vox, as well as the PP, are the last defenders of the penal code which has put Hasél in prison, a reminder if it was needed that behind thinly veiled ‘free speech’ advocacy, the far-right will happily lock its enemies behind bars at any given opportunity.

The Spanish right-wing are not so quick to condemn Spain’s neo-Francoist street movement, who have regularly held rallies with fascist salutes and anti-semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric on show, including in the same week of Hasél’s arrest. Indeed, Vox has emerged as a major political force through whipping up hatred against immigrants and refugees.

Anyone attempting to draw a lazy and false equivalence between ‘two extremes of left and right’ should consider the power dynamics: no one in the Spanish monarchy is going to be physically assaulted by racist thugs, whereas that is exactly what has happened to child refugees in Spain on multiple occasions. Genuine anti-fascism defends the freedom of expression of artists and musicians and the right to protest and challenge institutional power, while taking not one step back in being tribunes of the oppressed.

Dissent and independence

As for the Catalan independence movement, which Hasél is a supporter of, his arrest by the Mossos d’Esquadra police force has raised questions for the Catalan Government, just as it tries to put together a new pro-independence coalition. Dolores Sabater, spokesperson for the Catalan radical left party CUP, said Mossos d’Esquadra had not acted like a “democratic police”, and must be reformed as a condition for CUP’s entry into a coalition after the 14 February election.

The independence parties would do well to stay allied to Catalonia’s dissident youth. As Pep explains, the Catalan independence crisis “put a mirror on the Spanish state and revealed its true nature, which is none other than the repression of dissent by all means.”

For a movement seeking to break the hegemonic state, independentists should never lose sight of the value of dissent. As the late, great American historian Howard Zinn put it: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it. It is a corrective to the sluggishness of ‘the proper channels’, a way of breaking through passages blocked by tradition and prejudice. It is disruptive and troublesome, but it is a necessary disruption, a healthy troublesomeness.”


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  1. james gourlay says:

    General Franco’s dictatorship has not ended. His scions still rule. More of this should be released in British media.

    1. Bob says:

      At this time I think we should be more concerned about Scottish media ignoring the dictatorship at the top of our government that has now imploded with NS making a rare attendance at a NEC meeting to force through changes by banning opposing views and give notice of a cull of members not adhering to her views, ahead of next weeks Holyrood enquiry she may not survive. Not to mention the Hate Crime bill being pushed through that will allow NS to jail anyone who insults her. Makes goings on in Spain a bit of a distraction right now.

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    “The government will act forcefully against any form of violence,”

    Replace “forcefully” with “violently”,

  3. MacNaughton says:

    Spain goes from crisis to crisis and the Spanish elite continue to stick their head in the sand and spend their time arguing in a shrill and offended tone that their democracy is just like any other in Europe.

    Well, it isnt! We have a corrupt king in exile who apparently had a machine for counting money in his office, another member of the royal family in jail, the entire leadership of the corrupt PP accused by the former party treasurer Barcenas of systematic corruption and financing all their electoral campaigns through kickbacks which goes back to 1978, political prisoners in Catalonia and a constitutional crisis, and a State bureaucracy which, even when progressive laws are passed such as the minimum income for Covid relief, takes so long to actually come into effect that it defeats it’s own purpose…..The Spanish State needs root and branch reform…it needs to modernize!!! Only Britain is more corrupt.

    The Spanish elite refuse to face up to the fact that they are facing a systematic crisis on several fronts, and that just pretending that everything is fine is not going to work….young people are desperate and the rioting has been extremely violent…as for the unpleasant Hasel, one of his references are the German terrorist group from the 70s, Badderr Meinhoff….which should have people seriously worried….

    1. Pub Bore says:

      I was (briefly) detained at the Gare du Nord in Paris on suspicion of being a member of the Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe in November 1977. It was the only time in my life that I nearly shat myself.

      It was during the German Autumn, not long after the group had executed Hanns Schleyer, the former SS officer who headed the Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (the German employers federation). I was coming off the train from Köln and suddenly found myself being wheeched into a corridor by members of the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie national, where there was a long flight of stairs I was terrified I might fall down.

      Once they’d allowed me to produce my passport, though, and satisfied themselves that it was genuine, they released me with a typically Parisian insouciant shrug.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Good anecdote Foghorn. Were you not part of a revolutionary cell ever?

        Young people probably aren’t aware of the numerous anti-capitalist terrorist groups on the go back in the 70s. The Red Brigade in Italy, the Baader Meinhoff, GRAPO in Spain – another of Hasel’s lyrics or tweets references them – as well as ETA, and the FRAP.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if domestic terrorism were to emerge again in Europe with this neoliberal elite who do not respond to reasonable demands from society. I hope not, but it is not unthinkable..

        Young people can’t afford to setup home and live their lifes, and when they vote for a party outside the mainstream like Podemos, then the elite try their best to ignore and sideline them. The Spanish elite may not like Podemos but if they were wise they would see that they need Podemos who serve to articulate popular demands from the grassroots up to the top of society….if you block off all the channels for change, bad things are likely to happen.

        By the way,it is also worth noting in the context of Spanish justice, Pablo Iglesias and his wife Irene Montero (gender equality minister) have to endure a permanent encampment right outside their house made up of ultra hard right protesters who do their best to make life impossible for them and their two young children. Basically, they are subject to permanent harassment and their kids are just toddlers….

        There is no way on earth that situation would be tolerated if they were Spanish right wing politicians like Aznar, Rajoy, Felipe Gonzalez or Alfonso Guerra….It is unprecedented in the history of Spanish democracy for a group of threatening and aggressive people to besiege the home of a vice president of the government 24/7….

        Truly disgraceful behaviour….

        1. Pub Bore says:

          No, I’ve only ever been a good Communist, for whom terrorism is inadmissible because it belittles in their own consciousness the revolutionary role of the masses, reconciles them to their own powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes toward a great avenger and liberator who will someday come and accomplish their historical mission.

          Try telling a gendarme that, however.

          1. MacNaughton says:

            Very disappointing to hear you lack any subversive behaviour to regret later in life Foghorn, though, as we all know, there really never have been any marginal revolutionary group in Britain in living memory, Irish republicanism aside, for you to join.

            Ben Wray is too harsh on the Sanchez-Iglesias govt which has only been in power for one year, and the year of Covid 19 at that. I think they deserve some time and backing from the Left in Scotland who romanticize Catalonia and demonize the rest of Spain, and have swallowed some big, fat lies from the Catalan independence movement, most glaringly, the lie that the Spanish Civil War was about fascist Spain crushing Catalan independence.

            As anybody who has read even Orwell’s very partial account of his time in Spain, this is simply not true. There was no military force on the Aragon front fighting for Catalan independence, which simply wasn’t on the agenda at the time as a serious proposition. And the idea that Hitler and Mussolini would have poured military aid and men into fascist Spain to help Franco crush an independent Catalonia is too absurd for words….

            But this lie, Orwellian in scale, is repeated by George Kerevan and Chris Bambery in their book on Catalonia, and obviously Ian MacWhirter repeats in the Scottish press.

            The demand for a fully independent Catalan State is a very recent phenomenon, and takes off in earnest only 10 or 15 years or so ago….

          2. “there really never have been any marginal revolutionary group in Britain in living memory”

            The Angry Brigade?

          3. MacNaughton says:

            And there is no excuse for this lie about the roots and the causes of the Spanish Civil War, which is one of the most richly researched, documented and written episodes of modern European history, with a galaxy of first class historians and journalists who have contributed to our understanding of it over the years, from the classics like Roland Fraser’s “Blood of Spain”, to Henry Buckley’s “The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic” to the recent work of people like Paul Preston and Ian Gibson and in Spain itself, Angel Vinas today among many others.

            In his most recent book, “Quien quiso la Guerra Civil?” ( Who wanted the civil war?) Angel Vines provides us with the date and the names of the first meeting of the plotters who would eventually launch the failed coup of July 18th 1936, and that date is April 14th 1931, which is to say, the very same day the Republic was proclaimed, the first meeting of the conspirators took place!!!! Which says it all…

            They were embittered enemies of land reform, secularization of education, emancipation of women, and the democratization of Spain (including Catalan autonomy) among other things, but to say they came together that day in April 1931 to plot against Catalan independence is a gross misrepresentation of the history of both Spain and 20th century Europe….

          4. MacNaughton says:

            Good point, Bella, the Angry Brigade who were active back in the 70’s, though Foghorn/Pub Bore is right, the Communist Party always eschewed any involvement with these violent groups.

            As for the reasons behind the Spanish Civil War, it is a matter of some importance because it is an issue of constant, low intensity contention in Spain even today, with the Spanish Right still insisting that Franco’s coup was regrettable but necessary due to the chaotic years of the II Republic, and in other, more palatable versions, that it was regrettable but inevitable, which is what, more or less, the writer Javier Cercas maintains – even going to the lengths of writing a book about his Fascist uncle, in his work of “faction” “Lord of All The Dead” , – or Arturo Perez Reverte, he of the “Captain Alatriste” saga, who claims that the Spanish are by nature fratricidal which is possibly even more reactionary than the position taken by Cercas..

            The fact is, the II Republic was overthrown by the well financed and organized forces of reaction in Spain who plotted from the very start to bring it down, from the very first day, and install a fascist dictatorship all over Spain in its place, and finally managed to do so, thanks to the decisive aid of fascist Germany and Italy and the passivity of Britain and France.

            There was nothing inevitable about it, much less necessary, and to see Catalan nationalists instrumentalizing it is deeply depressing to me and a more than a little offensive to Spanish Republicans no doubt…

          5. Pub Bore says:

            Well, I’m now at the time of life where there’s very little ‘later’ left to squander in regret of any past act or omission.

            Incidentally, you don’t see immanent critique as a form of subversion…? It might not be as sexy as bombs and bullets and iconic brandings, but it does function to subvert the legitimacy of the rules and systems by which we regulate our modes of existence in its various social spheres (e.g. in the state, the workplace, the marketplace, consciousness, language, etc.) and obliging us to be continually remaking those structures in the perpetual revolution that is ‘history’.

    2. MacNaughton says:

      Pub Bore, I am not advocating violence in any shape or form if that is what you are thinking…

      No doubt there are people on the Left in Scotland who think rioting against “post Fascist Spain” is a good idea or even justifiable – these labels with the word “fascist” included are very handy for that kind of thing – but I am certainly not one of them. I think that it is pointless and senseless and contributes nothing other than to cause chaos in the lives of the citizens of Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia and people are injured and hospitalized and a young woman has even lost her eye. Who could ever justify such scenes?

      The point is that I believe we have in Spain and in neoliberal Europe a very deep crisis… young people can’t afford to rent a flat and so they can’t set up home and develop as adults. They can’t develop as human beings because of the housing crises caused by neoliberal capitalism and a political class who are increasingly seen by young people as irrelevant and incapable of offering any solutions to their problems… so, I’m afraid, that causes great frustration and becomes an explosive situation in time…

      1. Pub Bore says:

        I wasn’t suggesting you were. And I agree: the word ‘fascist’ is much abused in the contemporary discourse of partisan politics as a kind of emotional trigger word, in much the same way that ‘communist’ has been abused in the US and ‘papist’ has been abused in Scotland. It’s used to demonise and elicit strong feelings of hatred and fear towards the demonised as a means of defining and solidifying the users’ own group identity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it operates in much the same general non-descriptive way that ‘nigger’ did in places like Sweet Home Alabama.

        (There’s an example of ‘immanent critique’ for you!)

        1. MacNaughton says:

          Well, exactly, the word “fascist” should be used for fascists… the Spanish police fire rubber bullets into the crowds and needlessly charge protesters and act in an authoritarian way, but in a fascist regime, they don’t bother with any of that, they fire live ammunition and arrest, detain, torture and murder opponents…

          Franco used to go hunting wild goats – which was a passion for him like any good fascist – with a sub-machine gun… we know this because Juan Carlos’ father, the Count of Barcelona, in exile in Portugal but in contact with Franco throughout the dictatorship, strung along all the time by the brutal dictator who sucked every drop of legitimacy from the exiled king, complained in a letter to him than such behavior was unsportsmanlike and not befitting the (acting) Head of State of Spain …

          Anybody who reads the history of the II Republic, the epic story of the Civil War, in truly amazing deeply emotive books like “Blood of Spain” or “The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic”, will I suspect end up feeling like I do about Spain, which is to say that justice will only be done when that terrible historical wrong is righted, when the Spanish Republic is restored in full under a federal Constitution which would include the right to self-determination for all of the peoples and nations of Spain…

          1. Pub Bore says:

            But there’s no such thing as a fascist. The word’s been used so extensively as a pejorative that it’s lost all substantive meaning. As George Orwell pointed out as early as 1944, almost any English-speaking person would now accept ‘fascist’ as a synonym for ‘bully’, whatever that bully’s politics happened to be. It’s what that old rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, used to call a ‘flag-waver’; a word that’s used to create division among what he called the ‘chuckleheads’, so they’d know which side to kill.

            Once upon a time, it did have a substantive meaning. It referred specifically to someone who subscribed to Il manifesto dei fasci italiani di combattimento, written by syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and the futurist poet Filippo Marinetti ( This would have included, for example, our own Christopher Murray Grieve.

  4. Duncan Sutherland says:

    The Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, went through a traumatic transformation after the independence referendum on October 1st 2017, in the course of which they valiantly interposed themselves between the other Spanish police forces and the voting public to try to protect the latter against the former.

    Furthermore, instead of unthinkingly enforcing a court order to prevent the voting from taking place, their presence at polling stations consisted typically of a couple of uniformed officers not wearing riot gear but merely keeping watch at a discreet distance over the extremely long queues of voters in a way which Scottish police officers might do if we had long queues outside polling stations. As the queues were extremely orderly (in a demonstratively joyful sort of way), the Mossos officers had very little to do in this purely peacekeeping role which their superiors had apparently decided upon, except when officers from the other police forces appeared on the scene in full police-state riot gear to assault the voting public.

    The fact that the Mossos refrained from assaulting voters and protected them instead was subsequently held against them by the Spanish state, which removed the chief constable from office and prosecuted him for sedition, ultimately unsuccessfully because the Spanish judiciary, as well as being widely regarded as politicized in Catalonia, is also frequently found to be incompetent.

    A new chief constable was brought in from outside to bend the Mossos d’Esquadra to the will of the state in such a way as to make that police force an uncritical instrument of the wave of repression which began with the suspension of Catalan autonomy and the rounding up and prosecution of Catalan politicians. Although the deposed chief constable has now had to be re-instated, the message from the Spanish state to both him and all Catalan police officers could hardly be clearer: do as the politicized courts instruct you and do that unquestioningly if you know what’s good for you.

    Naturally, Mossos officers wish to keep their jobs and stay on the right side of the law, even though it does not allow freedom of expression as we understand it . . . and as the Catalans understand it.

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