Spanish police and protesters have clashed for a third night as the backlash against the jailing of a rapper for controversial tweets continued.

Dozens of people have been arrested since Tuesday night when angry demonstrations erupted after police detained Pablo Hasél, 32, who had been holed up in a university in Catalonia to avoid going to jail in a highly contentious free speech case.

The violence has thrust into the firing line the hard-left Podemos party. The junior partner in Spain’s leftwing coalition has opposed Hasél’s jailing and publicly supported the protesters.

Free speech protests erupt in Spain after rapper's arrest – video
Free speech protests erupt in Spain after rapper’s arrest – video

Police reported six arrests in Barcelona on Thursday after protesters set up barricades, prompting police to fire tear gas.

The centre of the Catalan capital was filled with burning rubbish bins and furniture. Hooded youths threw stones and bottles at police vans and damaged some vehicles.

The newsroom of the newspaper El Periódico de Cataluna was attacked, while TVE television showed clashes in the eastern city of Valencia.

On Wednesday night hundreds of people gathered in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square calling for Hasél’s release, throwing bottles at police, who charged at them in clashes lasting several hours.

People rally in support of Pablo Hasel in Vizcaya in the Basque region.
People rally in support of Pablo Hasél in Vizcaya in the Basque region. Photograph: Javier Zorrilla/EPA

Police arrested 19 people while the city’s emergency services said 55 people were injured, among them 35 police officers.

In Barcelona and three other Catalan cities demonstrators threw objects at police and set barricades ablaze on Wednesday, with police charging the protesters and in some places firing foam rounds. About 50 people were arrested across the country.

The director of Catalonia’s regional police force, Pere Ferrer, said officers faced a “highly complex scenario” because of the “high volume of public disorder” which included looting.

The force opened an investigation after a young woman lost an eye on Tuesday night in Barcelona as a result of a foam projectile used by police to dispel the protesters, he added.

Police block off a street in Barcelona on Thursday night.
Police block off a street in Barcelona on Thursday night. Photograph: Miquel Benitez/Getty Images

Hasél, known for his hard-left views, was arrested after failing to turn himself in on Friday to start a nine-month sentence over tweets calling former king Juan Carlos I a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

A court in his hometown of Lerida sentenced the rapper to another jail term of two and a half years on 12 February for threatening to kill a man at a bar, according to a ruling published on Thursday.

Hundreds of artists have rallied to Hasél’s cause, including the filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and the actor Javier Bardem. Amnesty International said jailing him for song lyrics and tweets was “unjust and disproportionate” while campaigners say prosecuting him is a dangerous assault on free speech.

The violence was roundly denounced by figures across the political spectrum with the Socialist deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, saying it was indefensible.

“No right can be defended or expressed with violence. That is an absolute red line,” she told RTVE public television.

The prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, remained silent on the case and the protests, which have highlighted a growing divide between his Socialists and Podemos, which emerged out of the anti-austerity Indignados movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011.

In the immediate firing line was a Podemos MP, Pablo Echenique, who publicly tweeted his backing for the protesters as the clashes were raging.

“All my support to the young anti-fascists who are demanding justice and freedom of expression in the streets,” he wrote.

But much anger was directed at the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias – also a deputy prime minister – who has criticised Hasél’s jailing and used it to question Spain’s democracy.


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