Protests over the imprisonment of a rapper convicted of insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence were marred by rioting for the third night in a row Thursday. The plight of Pablo Hasél, who began this week to serve a 9-month sentence in a northeastern prison, has triggered a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper's supporters and the police, the AP reports. The ruling coalition's junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, on Thursday filed a petition for a "total pardon" for Hasél and another rapper, Valtònyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of glorifying terrorism. But potentially deepening the tension, court authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region announced that Hasél lost a recent appeal and is looking at an additional prison sentence of 2½ years for obstructing justice and assault in 2017. The sentence can be appealed again before the Supreme Court.
Like the two previous nights, the protests began Thursday with large gatherings in several cities that were, at first, mostly peaceful. In Barcelona, hundreds sang, rapped and shouted "Pablo Hasél, freedom!" and "Spanish media, manipulators!" at a central square before dozens broke off to set alight a barricade of trash containers and a construction skip that blocked a main city artery, hurling stones and bottles at riot police. Flames threatened to extend to nearby buildings before firefighters arrived. In the coastal city of Valencia, police used batons to disperse protesters and arrested at least eight people, government officials said. Nearly 80 people have been arrested and more than 100 injured since Hasél was taken away from a university where he had sought refuge after refusing to show up at prison. The rapper and his supporters say Hasél's nine-month sentence for writing a song critical of former King Juan Carlos I, and for tweets that judges said glorified some of Spain's defunct terrorist groups, violates free speech rights.
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