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New protests in Spain over the jailing of rapper's backers

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Demonstrators react as police cordon off the street during a march in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, March 6, 2021. Several hundred protesters are marching in northeastern Spain's Barcelona against the crackdown that has followed the recent violent outcry over the imprisonment of Pablo Hasl, an outspoken anti-establishment artist and activist. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

BARCELONA – Several hundred protesters marched Saturday in Spain's northeastern city of Barcelona against the authorities' crackdown following a violent outcry over the imprisonment of Pablo Hasél, an anti-establishment artist.

Saturday's march took place amid a heavy police presence, winding through several avenues of the Catalan regional capital. Protesters walked behind a banner that called for the release of Hasél and his jailed supporters.

The rapper is serving nine months for inciting terrorism — he has praised two now-defunct armed groups responsible for killing over 900 people in Spain — and for refusing to pay a fine for insulting Spain’s former king.

His arrest on Feb. 16 triggered a mix of peaceful and violent protests that have at times ended in the looting of shops in several cities. The case has also invigorated a debate over the limits of freedom of speech in Spain.

Spain's ruling left-wing coalition has pledged to launch a legal reform to eliminate prison terms for offenses involving freedom of speech. The coalition's junior partner, the far-left United We Can party, has filed a petition to pardon Hasél.

Eight suspects have been jailed for being in a group that protested the rapper's imprisonment by setting fire to a police van in which an officer narrowly escaped the flames.

They face possible charges of attempted homicide, assaulting law enforcement officers and forming part of a criminal group.