Free Pablo Hasel?!

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The Catalan rapper and political prisoner

Pablo Hasel is a Catalan rapper and political activist who was imprisoned last week in Spain for promoting terrorism. In an unsuccessful effort to avoid arrest (he had already been convicted), Pablo barricaded himself inside of a University. After his apprehension, protests and riots occurred throughout Catalunya for the rest of the week.

These protests were not just for the release of Hasel, but also against the Spanish state, in many cases in favour of Catalan independence. More on that in a bit.

However this past weekend tensions escalated even further.

Here’s some video from the start of the police intervention in Barcelona on Saturday night:

Ongoing relations between the Spanish state and the semi-autonomous region of Catalunya are contentious and complicated.

Here’s a passage from a newsletter issue we wrote about Catalunya in October of 2019, the last time there was a general strike there:

Catalunya has historically been a hotbed of democracy. They consider the Usages of Barcelona to be a predecessor to the Magna Carta and an example of how Catalans have sought rights under the rule of law since the 11th century. In the 20th century the Barcelona based Spanish Republic was a beacon of innovation in democracy and human rights before it was crushed by international fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Two years ago the Catalan government sought to hold a referendum on their independence. They wanted to be independent from Spain, but part of the European Union. They felt oppressed by a Spanish government that they regarded as a legacy of the Franco dictatorship (the country has never had a truth and reconciliation process). And yet they desired full membership in the European Union, which they regarded as a path towards greater democracy and human rights.

With the referendum forbidden by the Spanish government, the Catalan regional government chose to hold it anyway. It is rather difficult in the Internet era to prevent people from voting on something. While the results of the vote are arguably inconclusive, given the irregularities and riots that plagued voting, the act itself was seen as a civil disobedience and a symbolic move towards independence.

The Spanish government arrested the politicians and the activists they felt were responsible for holding the vote. Their detentions and subsequent trials took two years, and this past week their verdicts were handed down with severe sentences. Guilty of sedition, and imprisonment that ranged between 9 and 15 years. Sedition being the act of organizing a vote, so as to measure the political will of the people.

The politician who was the President of the regional government of Catalunya at the time of the referendum remains in exile in Brussels, unable to return to Spain out of fear of imprisonment. In spite of being elected by Catalans, while in exile, as a Member of the European Parliament.

Spain remains a kind of open sore, where history remains relevant, and political conflicts can be traced back to violent conflict. In this case noting that the magistrate that convicted Hasel was once a Fascist candidate in post-Franco elections.

There have also been concerns regarding a double standard as to how the state and police forces respond to protests.

All of this muddies and complicates issues, especially given political prisoners are rarely saints, and political causes combine a range of political issues.

Politics no longer seems to appreciate nuance, but instead prefers simple moral frames that make it easy to choose sides. Even if it doesn’t take much to recognize that there is nothing simple about this.

Suggesting that a rapper is a misogynist or a psychopath is tragically not unusual, but when said rapper becomes a political hero it is definitely relevant.

Although it’s not just Hasel’s lyrics, but his general relationship with violence.

The above post is a relevant summary of both Hasel and some of the issues leading up to this episode, however I’m skeptical many people will read it. It’s far too easier to get caught up in the emotions and media driving this conflict.

What complicates matters further, is that the federal Spanish government is currently led by a left wing coalition. From the article above:

Sánchez and Grande-Marlaska belong to the Socialist party, which heads the coalition government. Senior members of the coalition’s junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, have spoken out in support of the protesters and criticised police after a protester lost an eye, allegedly due to a foam bullet fired by riot police.

On Thursday, the party filed a petition for a “total pardon” for Hasél and another rapper, Valtònyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of “glorifying” terrorism.

Many people, including artists, celebrities and politicians, have expressed support for a change in the country’s so-called “Gag Law” covering freedom of expression.

The government unexpectedly announced last week that it would change the law to scrap prison terms for offenses involving freedom of expression. It did not specifically mention Hasél or set a timetable for the changes.

One of the reasons the left is in power, federally in Spain, is the hope that they might do a better job of keeping the country together, and negotiating with Catalan nationalists, which while politically diverse, do depend upon a core left wing constituency.

However this particular conflict is dividing the left, and making it even harder for it to be resolved peacefully. The Spanish right meanwhile, wants to use violence and authoritarianism to keep the Catalan region in line, since it is the economic and industrial engine of Spain.

We’ll keep an eye on this conflict as it continues.

For reference here’s Pablo’s statement before this conflict began (if you click on it Twitter will translate).

Finally here’s the segment we did on the story last week:

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