Spain protests: Woman hit by police rubber bullet ‘loses eye’

The woman was reportedly injured during clashes between police and demonstrators, who are protesting a rapper’s imprisonment.

Rapper Pablo Hasel's case has raised public alarm over the prosecution of speech crimes in Spain and triggered protests in several cities [Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo]

A woman has lost an eye amid protests in Spain over the arrest of rap artist Pablo Hasel – demonstrations that have seen police fire rubber bullets and baton-charge demonstrators, according to reports.

The woman was reportedly hit by a police rubber bullet during a rally on Tuesday in Barcelona, the AP news agency reported on Thursday, citing officials.

Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted human rights group Iridia as saying the injury was caused by a foam-tipped projectile – the kind used by police in the city and wider Catalonia region, where Hasel was arrested on Tuesday.

Health authorities in the area said a forensic expert had been tasked with determining what caused the woman’s injury, El Pais reported on Thursday.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the cause, and extent, of the woman’s injuries.

Police officers clash with demonstrators as supporters of Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel protest against his arrest in Madrid [Susana Vera/Reuters]

Protests in Madrid, Barcelona

The developments came after protesters rallied in several cities across Spain, including Barcelona and the capital, Madrid, again on Wednesday evening to demonstrate against Hasel’s arrest.

The 33-year-old was detained in dramatic fashion after barricading himself in a university building earlier this week to avoid his arrest in a case involving free speech.

He was taken to prison to serve a nine-month sentence for insulting the monarchy and glorifying “terrorism” in a song about former King Juan Carlos, and in 64 tweets several years ago.

Angry demonstrations broke out on Tuesday night in Catalonia before fanning outwards.

On Wednesday evening, some protesters threw objects at officers and used trash containers – setting many alight – and overturned motorbikes to block streets in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities. Some shop windows were smashed during the demonstrations.

Spanish police arrested about 50 people across both evenings of unrest, the AFP news agency reported, and more than 60 people were injured in the clashes.

Pablo Hasel detained by riot police inside the University of Lleida, after he was sentenced to jail time on charges including insulting the monarchy and praising armed rebel groups, in Lleida [File: Lorena Sopena/Reuters]

Hasel arrest draws widespread attention

The protests marked the latest flashpoint over Hasel’s legal situation, which has drawn considerable public attention, with performers, celebrities and politicians demanding a change in the law that he was convicted of violating.

Amnesty International said the case was the latest in a string of instances where artists and social media personalities were put on trial for violating Spain’s 2015 Public Security Law, which was enacted by a previous conservative-led government.

Critics say the law curtails free assembly and muzzles dissent.

Some political parties defended the protesters but others supported the police and claimed the violence was caused by vandals.

Spanish national television cited Barcelona authorities as estimating the damage at 70,000 euros ($84,500).

Spain’s left-wing coalition government said last week that it planned to change the criminal code to eliminate prison terms for offences involving freedom of expression.

Hasel faced previous charges for assault, praising armed rebel groups, breaking into private premises and insulting the monarchy.

The rapper, whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla Duro, often writes songs in defence of members of the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) and Marxist group GRAPO (Grupos de Resistencia Antifascista Primero de Octubre). Spanish authorities consider both groups “terrorist” organisations.

Hasel has also accused police of torturing and killing demonstrators, as well as targeting migrants and refugees.

His case echoes that of another rapper, Valtonyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 after being convicted of similar crimes.

Spain is trying to extradite him but Belgium has refused, arguing his offences are not a crime under Belgian law.

The protests marked the latest flashpoint over Hasel’s legal situation [Susana Vera/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies