BARCELONA – More than 30 people were arrested and charged with public disorder and looting after protests against the imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel turned violent on Saturday in the center of Barcelona.
Other protests also broke out in smaller cities, mostly in the Catalonia region where Hasel is from.
It was the fifth consecutive night that protests have taken place.
Police sources confirmed on Sunday that 34 people were arrested across the region, including some minors.
Dozens of stores and bank branches in central Barcelona were looted or damaged on Saturday night, including the Stock Exchange and the iconic Palau de la Musica.
The violence began when some 6,000 people, according to local police, gathered to protest against the imprisonment of Hasel – real name Pablo Rivadulla – who has been in prison since Tuesday after he was found guilty of glorifying the now-defunct Basque terrorist group ETA and slandering the royal family, the police and the court system in a series of tweets and some of his lyrics.
Despite the rally organizers’ call to avoid altercations, shortly after the start of the protest, groups of hooded protesters started burning containers, clashing with the police, destroying property and attacking shops in Barcelona’s commercial center.
In Madrid, around a hundred people gathered on Saturday for a protest that remained peaceful amid a strong police presence aimed at preventing a repetition of Wednesday’s riots.
The jailing of Hasel reopened the debate on the limits of freedom of expression in Spain and, in particular, the so-called gag law used to underpin the charges against the artist.
The Socialist-led coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said it would review the penalties for artists whose work is found to insult or incite violence against state institutions.
Some 200 Spanish artists, including actor Javier Bardem and film director Pedro Almodovar, have signed an open letter opposing Hasel’s sentence, the imposition of which has also faced criticism from organizations such as Amnesty International.