Spanish state punishes communist rappers for ‘insulting the crown’

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In a chilling attack on free speech and dissent, the Spanish state has brought criminal proceedings against two rappers for their political messages in songs and social media posts. Josep Miquel Arenas Beltran, known by his artistic name Valtònyc, and Pablo Rivadulla i Duró, known as Pablo Hasél, are the two young communists accused.

Valtònyc is a communist and rapper from Mallorca who supports Catalan independence. On 22 February 2017 he was condemned to three and a half years in prison for ‘praising terrorism’ and ‘insulting the crown’. On 20 February 2018 Spain’s Supreme Court ratified the sentence. This is the first time an artist has been imprisoned simply for his lyrics since fascist dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975. Valtònyc is challenging the verdict and taking it to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pablo Hasél is a Catalan communist rapper. He stands accused of committing similar crimes to those of Valtònyc: ‘glorifying terrorism’ and insulting and slandering the crown and state institutions. Although he is yet to be sentenced, Hasél has been tried in Spanish national courts before. In 2011 he was accused of ‘praising terrorism’. In 2014 he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, and in 2015 the Supreme Court ratified the decision. The tribunal claimed that Hasél’s songs implied ‘hate speech and exceeded the limits of freedom of speech and of artistic creation’. He didn’t go to prison but he was forced to sign in at a police station every fortnight for two years.

The trials of the two communists have taken place at a time when the Spanish state has resorted to brutal repression against the Catalan independence movement. Four separatist leaders are in prison while others remain in exile under threat of arrest.

Draconian punishments have been used against other left-wingers who have dared to speak out. The lead singer of the music band KOP, Juan Ramón Rodríguez i Fernández, also known as Juanra, was arrested in 2000 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to be extradited to Spain and imprisoned for six years. He was accused of collaborating with the Basque national liberation armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). However, it is only now that words in songs and Twitter posts have been criminalised.

In March 2017, university student Cassandra Vera was condemned for 13 jokes on Twitter about the ETA attack that killed Luis Carrero Blanco, fascist dictator Franco’s would-be successor. Cassandra was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and banned from working for seven years as a civil servant. Fortunately, Spain’s Supreme Court absolved Vera, finding the sentence to be absurd.

The Spanish state uses the threat of excessive punishment as an effective repressive tool, intimidating critics to stay quiet. Many on the left in Spain have published social media posts in the past celebrating the anniversary of the death of fascist leader Carrero Blanco, but lately they are more careful. In fact, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now censor their own users when such jokes are made.

Neither Valtònyc nor Pablo Hasél have retracted their words or ideas. Instead, they have both made a political defence of their right to free speech. Both rappers have continued to be active on stages and fighting in everyday struggles on the streets. Revolutionary communists will not be intimidated by the Spanish state.

Free all political prisoners! ¡Salud y República!

 

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