Interview with the Catalan rapper and poet Pablo Hasél about artistic repression in Spain
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan Photo Journalist
Pablo Rivadulla i Duró, better known by his stage name of Pablo Hasél, is a rapper and Catalan poet. He started his career in 2006, but on October 4 2011, he was arrested by the Spanish police and charged with “apology of terrorism” for the lyrics of his songs. He was subsequently taken before Spain’s Audiencia Nacional, a court many consider to be a sinister inheritance of Franco’s old Public Order Court. Along with the famous Valtonyc case – another popular rapper prosecuted in Spain – Hasél’s case has become symptomatic of Spain’s controversial crack-down on freedom of speech amongst artists. Recent times have seen the suppression of pictures of Catalan political prisoners at art shows, rappers and singers fined and jailed for tweets and well-meaning puppeteers prosecuted for their shows. And all is assisted by the famous Gag Law (Ley Mordaza) that Social Democrats (PSOE) and the conservative Partido Popular apply alike. Recently the Human Rights section of the Tarragona Bar Association (ICAT) resigned en bloc for not being authorized to hold a debate with Pablo Hasél showing that not all the system goes along with Spain’s ongoing divorce with democratic standards.
What is your current position with regard to the law? How many trials and convictions have you had to face?
I have a firm 2-year conviction for having written the lyrics of songs and another 2-year sentence for another song and tweets on twitter. I will soon know if this last one is confirmed or not. If it is, I will be sent to prison. Apart from that, I’m also awaiting other cases for incidents outside the world of art and one for tweets against a Ukrainian football player called Zozulyam – a renowned Nazi sympathizer – in which, incredibly enough, I’m accused of committing a “hate crime” against a Nazi! In all, I could spend up to 12 years in prison for these cases.
You say that art cannot be limited by censorship. Where is the limit to art’s freedom of expression? Do you justify revolutionary violence?
I say that it is not legitimate to limit revolutionary art. On the other hand, I would never advocate art forms that exalt homophobia, racism, and male chauvinism. And these are not only legal, but promoted by the regime’s media. I defend the freedom to defend rights and attack those responsible for depriving us of them. I justify revolutionary violence because objectively it is self-defense against many daily forms of violence that we suffer as a people and as a class.
Your convictions say you made an apology of terrorism…
I do not consider what I say to be an apology of terrorism. Especially when compared with the very real terrorism caused by the injustices that are imposed on us by force. In the past, we saw how the peaceful struggle expressed in songs, referendums, demonstrations, etc., was brutally repressed. It is our repressors who close the way to peaceful revolution. I would like social change to be possible without revolutionary violence. But it’s not my fault that this option is barred.
Could we say that rap lyrics are no more “reprehensible” than those of singers censored during the Franco regime? Are we back in a regime that exerts censorship, like Franco’s did?
Of course we are. One must point out that the Spanish state never severed its links with fascism. The fascists were not defeated militarily as they were in Italy or Germany. One must remember that the current king is Franco’s heir. This is epitomized in the lack of rights we have and the fact that one can even be arrested or convicted for making jokes about Carrero Blanco,i Franco’s right hand man. We have not regained the freedom of expression that the fascists destroyed with a genocidal coup d’État in 1936. Otherwise this would not to the case.
How do you view the Spanish state after they jailed you and other artists?
Well they can’t put everyone in prison as they would like to, so they go for individual cases to scare the rest. There have been 15 rappers convicted in recent times. In 2018, Spain was worldwide the state with the highest number of artists sentenced to prison. Many people who lived during the last years of the Franco regime say that in some respects we are even worse off today. Here fascism was reformed, not done away with. It now lives on within the system. I have been sentenced to prison for explaining cases of torture which the European Court of Human Rights itself has repeatedly condemned the Spanish state for.
What do International human rights organisations say about your case?
Several organisations have denounced the violation of the most fundamental rights and freedoms by the Spanish State, not only that of freedom of expression. But the state remains unflinching. Things will only change with active street mobilization, never with half-hearted complaints from international organizations.
Why does the State consider the famous clown’s nose caseii to be a punishable “hate crime” and not cases such as when Spanish author Pérez Reverte and singer Joaquin Sabina publicly regretted that “not all Catalans’ throats were cut in the XVIIIth century” or threats against president Puigdemont uttered by a unionist riding a tank? Is there a fair equilibrium in Spain between the judicial treatment of Catalan independence activists or communists, for example, and that of far right activists?
It again goes to show that only fascists and their allies have complete freedom of speech, even though they exercise hate crimes against the people. If they’d said what they said against the Catalans (https://spaincrisis.blogspot.com/2016/06/joaquin-sabina-y-arturo-perez-reverte.html?m=1. Minute 26.24) against the jews, gypsies or blacks, it would be a major scandal. But Spain is a State harbouring a fascist essence and there are no holds barred against Catalans, Basques, and antifascists etc. These two mercenaries (Reverte and Sabina) are badly disguised “progressive” artists who, when rights such as self-determination are at stake, behave exactly the same as the fascists themselves. Fascists continue to wield real power in the judicial, military, economic, and security fields in Spain. This leads to the extraordinary circumstance today in which Spanish law considers hatred expressed against Nazism to be a crime, with the support of the socialists (PSOE), whereas Nazis, even ones who have committed murder, are often acquitted or merely serve token prison convictions. In Spain it is common practice for fascists to exert repression against us anti-fascists.
Has time proved you right regarding the contents of songs in which you criticized ex King Juan Carlos?
Yes indeed. As I showed at the trial, everything that I said about the King in those songs was to be published in many Spanish or international media shortly afterwards. Nevertheless, I was convicted just the same. A trial in which you supply proof and in which you are condemned regardless, for telling objective facts, shows we are in the hands of the fascist Inquisition. It’s a farce, an excuse to say that you are entitled to a fair defence when this is clearly false.
Have there been any differences in the way Rajoy (Conservative) and Sánchez’s (Social Democrat) goverments have treated you?
Absolutely none. The same can be claimed by many suffering repression. In fact, the first arrest and police search of my house I suffered for making songs was in 2011, under the PSOE government. If we analyze the facts, they are just as repressive and fascist, which is what counts.
In your song ‘Libertad de expresión’ (Freedom of expression), you lay into “artists who keep quiet about injustice, (showing) disgusting complicity”. Have you had much support from the Spanish left and Spanish left-wing artists? Why have the latter often kept quiet in cases such as yours?
There is more solidarity today than before. In 2011, when I was arrested and later convicted, I hardly received any solidarity at all. But it’s true, there is still little support. It may initially be put down to the individualism that predominates in society. But also to fear. Many artists know that doors will close if you stick your neck out. Others are simply mercenaries at the service of the regime. Little by little, there is more awareness about it and people begin to see that this affects everyone who is neither powerful nor fascist. Now, more and more people stop me in the street to show me their support. This didn’t happen so much before. In Catalonia in particular, there has been a big increase in people’s awareness with regard to the absence of democracy in Spain.
How can the Spanish system of repression be compared to that of other EU countries?
It is the most repressive state by far because, as I said, there was no break with – nor defeat of – fascism. In Spain we have the most reactionary oligarchy in Europe. It is no coincidence that it is also the state with the lowest quality in terms of housing or labour rights, among many others. But as a communist, I won’t exemplify any particular capitalist state because all of them represses the working class with different degrees of intensity.
You decided to face up to a prison sentence and disregard the option of exile that your fellow rapper Valtonyc chose. Why?
I’d rather spend a few years in jail and keep up the struggle when I come out than not be able to come back. I think I am more useful here. Our repressors will pay a higher price if I stay than if I leave because of the social awareness that is created. If they want to have me quiet in prison, they will only be granting me a loudspeaker for the message they fear so much. In fact, the most obvious proof that they want me to go into exile is that they let me go to Venezuela and Belgium twice, these being two places where I could have gone into exile. In contrast, a few years ago, when I was still pending trial, I was not even allowed to leave the state.
Can Pablo Hasél fully express himself in his music today?
No I can’t and neither can many other singers. I know plenty of artists who think like me but who don’t say so out of fear. It’s a less visible but very widespread form of repression. They can continue condemning me for what I say, because I will keep on doing the same thing. I have no intention of letting them dictate what I can and can’t say. They have also banned many of my concerts, deleted YouTube themes, made it difficult for me to find another job, and so on. But change is only possible if we are disobedient to injustice. Today’s so-called “progressive” and “left-wing” Spanish government has done nothing to stop the repression of revolutionary art and alternative social movements.
i Franco’s prime minister and political heir assassinated by ETA in 1973.
ii Innocently worn before a civil guard on duty by prosecuted town councillor Jordi Pesarrodona