Imprisoned Unjustly Since October 2022, in Urgent Need of Medical Care
April 6, 2023 – The international community, including music and arts institutions as well as freedom of speech and expression organizations, should urgently call for the release from arbitrary imprisonment of dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi, who is widely considered the voice of Iran’s protest movement, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Toomaj rapped about political and social issues that Iranian authorities have long tried to conceal from domestic and foreign audiences to ward off criticism of their repressive policies,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi. “Toomaj took extreme personal risks by further exposing issues that the state wants to hide, like child labor and political repression, through his art.”
“For peacefully criticizing state policies through his music, and because he has a large audience inside Iran, Toomaj has been in jail since October 2022, facing charges that could carry the death penalty,” added Ghaemi.
“He is in urgent need of intense and coordinated international pressure for his freedom, as are the many other detainees and political prisoners in Iran,” said Ghaemi.
Widely revered inside Iran as an underground rapper who directly addressed the denial of human rights in the Islamic Republic, Salehi, 33, known among his fans by his first name and from the city of Shahin Shahr, Isfahan Province, has been detained in isolation from all other prisoners in the province’s Dastgerd Prison—in a high-security ward controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) intelligence organization—since October 31, 2022.
Facing Multiple Charges, Possible Death Sentence
In interviews with CHRI, sources close to Toomaj said the rapper required urgent medical treatment that cannot be provided from within the prison.
They also stressed the importance of international pressure for Salehi’s release before his trial begins—in which he has been denied a lawyer of his choice and denied the right to prepare a proper defense—due to the severity of the charges he’s facing, including one that carries the death penalty.
He has only been allowed to meet with his lawyer three times in the last five months, sources told CHRI.
“Toomaj always used to quote [the poet] Ahmad Shamlou’s famous words that “an artist must always be ‘above’ power, not ‘with’ power,” said a source with detailed knowledge of his case who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“I can confidently say that if it weren’t for the media and international pressure in the early days and weeks, Toomaj might not be alive today,” added the source, stressing that the support has since faded.
“Toomaj’s trial has not yet been held, so it is very important to act now before it starts,” the source said.
Toomaj was arrested after joining street protests that had erupted across the country in mid-September 2022 after Jina Mahsa Amini, 22, was killed in state custody following her arrest by the so-called “morality police” for her alleged improper hijab.
He had previously been detained in September 2021 and was released after 8 days.
After moving from one safe house to another, he was detained shortly after the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation aired an interview with him in which he described what it’s like to live in Iran: “You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation…in order to keep its power, money and weapons.”
Medical Treatment Urgently Needed
State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded, with bruising on his face, apologizing for his words.
Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.
Directed by Islamic Republic intelligence agents, state media has a documented history of aiding the country’s intelligence and security apparatus by broadcasting false forced “confessions” that have been extracted under torture, in order to defame political prisoners in the public eye.
Toomaj is facing a charge that could carry the death penalty, “corruption on earth,” as well as charges that each carry 1-10 years of imprisonment: “propaganda against the state,” “formation and management of illegal groups with the aim of undermining national security,” “collaboration with hostile governments,” and “spreading lies and inciting violence through cyberspace and encouraging individuals to commit violent acts.”
His court date has not been set.
Call to Action
CHRI urges governments, UN bodies, organizations dedicated to promoting art, music, freedom of speech and expression, and other basic human rights, and concerned citizens worldwide to publicly demand Salehi’s freedom and publicize his case by sharing this article and signing a petition calling for Toomaj’s freedom.
Social media users can also produce content on their channels calling on others to join in sharing Toomaj’s story and demanding his freedom along with all other prisoners of conscience detained in Iran.
A sample caption: “Toomaj Salehi, a dissident rapper who spoke about social issues, has been unjustly detained in Iran since October 2022 under charges that could carry the death penalty.
Iranian authorities should #FreeToomaj and all prisoners of conscience who have been jailed for peacefully raising their voices.”
Click here to read transcripts of two in-depth interviews we conducted with sources with detailed knowledge of Toomaj’s case.