Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi

Outrage Over Death Sentence For Dissident Iranian Rapper

Thursday, 04/25/2024

Calls for action grew louder in Iran on Wednesday, following an announcement that Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has been sentenced to death for supporting anti-regime protests in 2022.

Thousands expressed their outrage on social media, proposing a day of action across the world, something that has not happened for a while. There were also reports from Tehran of night-time chants against the regime, as well as youngsters writing slogans on city walls in support of the increasingly popular artist.

Toomaj Salehi broke out of the underground rap scene in Iran with his 2021 single, Rat Hole [surakh mush], in which he attacked those Iranians – inside and outside Iran – who choose to side with the regime or not to use their platforms to augment or relay the voice of struggling and dissenting Iranians. He became a household name and a symbol of heroic resistance after he joined protesters in 2022, despite clear and imminent danger to his life.

He was first arrested in October 2022 at the height of the protests better known as Women Life Freedom movement –that was sparked by the death of a young woman (Mahsa Amini) who was arrested because the police didn’t like her outfit, and was beaten on the head while in custody.

In July 2023, Toomaj was sentenced to 75 months in prison, after Iran’s Supreme Court effectively ruled out a death sentence. He was released on bail in November, more than a year after he was first arrested. A few days after his release, he published a video message, detailing his mistreatment and torture by intelligence agents of the regime. He was rearrested almost immediately.

In January, Isfahan's Revolutionary Court ignored the higher court’s ruling for clemency and brought new charges against him, according to his lawyer, Amir Raeisian. It is for those new charges, chief among them 'baghy' (or armed rebellion), that Toomaj has been sentenced to death.

His sentence has been met with a mix of shock and anger – from Tehran and Isfahan to Berlin and Washington D.C.

“We strongly condemn Toomaj Salehi’s death sentence and the five-year sentence for Kurdish-Iranian rapper Saman Yasin,” US special envoy on Iran Abram Paley posted on X. “We call for their immediate release. These are the latest examples of the regime’s brutal abuse of its own citizens, disregard for human rights, and fear of the democratic change the Iranian people seek.”

Many Iranians view with suspicion the Biden administration and its messages of support, having witnessed its efforts to reach a deal with what they see as a brutal government that has lost legitimacy to rule.

The death sentence handed to Toomaj Salehi comes amid heightened tensions abroad and renewed crackdown on women inside. It could thus be read as yet another attempt by the regime to say it is in charge and as determined as ever to suppress all forms of dissent.

“Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has waged war on artists, particularly those who have used their talents to advocate for Iran’s liberation,” Iran’s exiled prince Reza Pahlavi posted on X. “I call on the international community, particularly Toomaj’s peers in the arts, to be his voice and to demand an immediate revocation of this sham sentence and his unencumbered release from prison.”

Toomaj Salehi and his defense team have 20 days to appeal against the ruling –and they will, according to his lawyer, Amir Raesian.

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