Calls to save Iranian rapper sentenced to death

Toomaj Salehi, convicted for “corruption on earth” after supporting the 2022 protest movements in Iran, risks hanging.

Iranian authorities are under pressure to release and acquit famous Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi sentenced to death for “corruption on earth” after supporting the 2022 protests in Iran. The artist, aged 33, risks hanging. Arrested in October 2022, he had supported via his songs and on social networks the protest movement triggered after the death on September 16, 2022 of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurd detained by the morality police, who accused him of having violated the strict dress code imposed on women.

The verdict of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court, reported Wednesday by local Iranian media citing the rapper’s lawyer and which can still be appealed, stunned Iranian NGOs and activists because it went against a previous decision of the Supreme Court. According to UN experts, the rapper was initially sentenced to six years in prison, before it ordered his release. But he was arrested again in November.

“Grotesque manipulation of the judicial process”accused Hadi Ghaemi, director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), based in New York, believing that the verdict was aimed at “silencing dissent”. Supporters of the young artist launched a campaign on social networks under the hashtag #SaveToomaj. “This is terrible news and we must all be outraged and do everything in our power to #saveToomaj. He’s a national hero.”wrote British actress of Iranian origin Nazanin Boniadi on X.

The verdict comes amid increased repression in Iran, particularly against women, and a soaring increase in executions. According to Amnesty International, 853 people were executed in 2023, an increase of 48% compared to 2022. Since the start of the year, already 130 have been executed, according to the NGO IHR based in Norway.

The verdict against Salehi came shortly after another rapper, Saman Yasin, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was initially sentenced to death. According to his lawyer, he was tortured and forced to make confessions. “We call for their immediate release”, declared the deputy of the American special envoy on Iran, Abram Paley. The convictions of the two rappers “are the latest examples of the regime’s brutal abuse of its own citizens, its disregard for human rights and the fear of democratic change hoped for by Iranians”.


The death sentence for Toomaj Salehi was denounced this Thursday, April 25, by France, Italy, and experts from a UN working group. France denounced a decision “unacceptable” “which is added to the many others death sentences and unjustifiable executions linked to the fall 2022 protests in Iran”. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani “strongly condemned” the decision of the Iranian courts. Several organizations called for a rally in Paris on Sunday to demand his release in a column titled We must save rapper Toomaj.

In Geneva, ten independent United Nations experts denounced this verdict. “As harsh as Toomaj Salehi’s songs are against the government, they are a manifestation of artistic freedom and cultural rights”, they said in a press release, signed by five special rapporteurs and the five members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. They say to themselves “alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty and the alleged ill-treatment against Mr. Salehi which appears solely linked to the exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity”.

Several hundred people, including members of the security forces, were killed and thousands arrested during the protests which took place in October and November 2022 in Iran, before ebbing. Nine people were executed in connection with this uprising, according to NGOs. Six others are threatened with imminent execution, according to IHR (Iran Human Rights). These convictions are “the sign of despair of the regime of the Islamic Republic and its fear of popular protest”said IHR director Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam.

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