MADRID – Spain’s national court sentenced on Friday a Spanish rapper to two years and one day in prison after finding him guilty of insulting the country’s monarchy and other state institutions as well as glorifying terrorist groups on his Twitter account.
The ruling said that Pablo Rivadulla, known by his stage name Pablo Hasel, had published content in 62 tweets that constituted a joint action directed against the state’s authority and implied a call to adopt violent behavior, even terrorism, in the fight against state repression.
“It’s not a matter of opinions anymore, I’ve been convicted for telling objective facts about the monarchy, the police or political prisoners,” Rivadulla said on Twitter after learning of the decision. “I’ll never surrender.”
Two of the court’s three magistrates voted for the conviction, while Judge Manuela Fernández Prado issued a dissenting vote arguing that Rivadulla’s remarks were within the confines of his freedom of speech.
“A call for violence cannot be identified in any of the 62 tweets considered in this trial, and they do not appear to be susceptible of generating a risk situation for anyone,” Fernández contended.
The court also imposed a fine of 24,300 euros ($29,905) on the rapper.
As Rivadulla had already been found guilty of exalting terrorism in 2014 and handed a two-year prison sentence – which was suspended, since in the Spanish legal system sentences lower than two years and a day are generally not enforced unless the person has a prior conviction – he is now expected to enter jail and serve at least four years.
Rivadulla, however, may yet appeal his case before the supreme court.
The majority ruling said that Rivadulla’s intent to glorify terrorism, insult and defame the Crown and other state institutions was neither equivalent to free speech, nor to a casual or humorous remark, but rather a premeditated conduct intended to provoke and obtain a violent response.
The court determined that Rivadulla had praised the violent actions of the violent Basque separatist group ETA and the defunct October First Antifascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO).
Rivadulla said, among other things, that political prisoners – including some convicted for terrorism – were an example of resistance, that Spain’s Civil Guard – a semi-military national police force – had murdered 15 migrants attempting to cross the border, that the Civil Guard committed torture – a fact repeatedly ruled true by the European Court of Human Rights – and that the king of Spain lived in luxury at the cost of others’ exploitation and misery while selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.
One of the trial’s focal points was a song, released in 2016, which heavily criticized former King Juan Carlos I, who abdicated in favor of his son Felipe VI in 2014 following a scandal involving secret elephant-hunting trips to Botswana.
As head of State, the king is legally protected against insults and slander by his subjects.
Rivadulla’s conviction came amid a growing wave of trials against entertainers, Twitter users, protesters and street performers for crimes related to free speech in Spain.
In 2016, two street puppeteers were tried for exalting terrorism and spent five days in jail after one of the puppets in their show held up a sign with a pun referencing ETA and al-Qaida, although they were ultimately exonerated of the charge.
In March 2017, 21-year-old college student Cassandra Vera was sentenced to a year in prison and barred from becoming a public school teacher, her lifelong dream, for “humiliating the victims of terrorism” in 13 tweets in which she joked about the 1973 assassination of Franco’s prime minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was killed in an ETA bombing.
Vera was exonerated by the supreme court on Thursday.
In November, a trial was launched against 13 rappers belonging to a musical collective known as “The Insurgency” who stand accused of exalting the GRAPO; the suit remains ongoing.
On Feb. 8, a 24-year-old was fined 480 euros for posting a photo montage on Instagram in which he had superimposed his own face on a wooden statue of Jesus Christ.
Spanish blasphemy law penalizes offenses against religious sentiments.
On Feb. 20, the supreme court confirmed a prison sentence of three and a half years for another rapper, José Miguel Arenas Beltrán – also known as “Valtonyc” – for insulting and slandering the Crown, exalting terrorism and making threats in his songs.
One of the verdict’s main focal points involved controversial lyrics criticizing the Spanish monarchy, including verses such as “The Bourbons are thieves.”
The House of Bourbon is the name of the originally-French royal dynasty that has ruled Spain since the early 18th century.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a recent report that Spain needed to revise or repeal some of its legislation, such as the 2015 citizen security law – popularly known as the “Gag Law” – which severely restricted public protests and banned the dissemination of images of police officers, among other measures.
AI added that the charge of exalting terrorism was being abused to prosecute people peacefully exercising their right to express themselves and that a vague definition of “terrorism” was being wielded to disproportionately limit citizens’ free speech.
“There is growing fear among Spaniards to take to the streets and reclaim their rights, due to the thousands of penalties imposed on individuals, activists and journalists,” said Esteban Beltrán, the director of AI in Spain.
“The arbitrarity used to apply sanctions, the discretion police operate with and the lack of mechanisms for the supervision of police activities is showing its consequences,” Beltrán added, while stressing that this had caused trials and convictions to skyrocket.