On February 15th, Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél was imprisoned. His crime? Writing song lyrics that compared the Spanish king to a Mafia boss. Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with an elected legislature and a ceremonial royal family. But along with its symbolic position, the Spanish monarchy enjoys a state stipend, a royal palace, and oddly, legal protection from anyone making a spoken attack, even if true. Under Spain’s “lèse-majesté” laws, insulting the royal family or their ancestors is punishable by fines or up to two years in prison.
This is an outrageous limit on freedom of speech in any country – but is truly ironic in Spain, where the previous king, Juan Carlos I, abdicated in shame in favor of his son – the current king of Spain, Felipe VI – after he took a hunting trip in Botswana at the peak of the Great Recession in Spain, when there was a 23% unemployment rate. More recently, in 2020, Juan Carlos fled to Dubai after Spanish authorities started investigating a long list of financial crimes he committed while king – everything ranging from bribery, to tax fraud, to hidden bank accounts in Switzerland and the island of Jersey.
Is it any wonder what the response of the Spanish people has been? Thousands of people have demonstrated for his release and against the monarchy in every major Spanish city. Over 200 prominent Spanish artists, writers, actors and actresses have signed a petition calling for his release. The protesters are led by the youth above all, who face an unemployment rate of 33% and a system that offers nothing but hopelessness to them.
In the face of mounting pressure, the Spanish government has agreed to review the lèse-majesté laws and at least eliminate the prison sentence. Spain is another example of what we’ve seen throughout the world in the past 2 years – ordinary people rising up and fighting for a better world.