Iranian Rapper’s Death Sentence Sparks Outrage, Global Rallies

Toomaj Salehi Iran

Popular Iranian dissident, rapper and hip-hop artist Toomaj Salehi, a 33-year-old former factory worker known for his protest songs and social media posts critical of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has been sentenced to death after being convicted of “spreading corruption on earth” charges. The sentence has been globally condemned including by the State Department’s office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Iran by calling for his release and that of Kurdish-Iranian rapper Saman Yasin. The special envoy characterized the regime’s conduct as “brutal abuse of its own citizens, disregard for human rights, and fear of the democratic change the Iranian people seek.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva has also called for Toomaj’s immediate release saying in part that “Art must be allowed to criticize, to provoke, to push the boundaries in any society. As harsh as Mr. Salehi’s songs are to the government, they are a manifestation of artistic freedom and cultural rights.”

As part of the Global “Free Toomaj” day rally, BayArea4Iran organized a demonstration at Harry Bridges Plaza attended by several hundred supporters along San Francisco’s busy Embarcadero. The rally was organized “…in order to show the outrage regarding Toomaj Salehi’s unjust sentence and to continue to be his voice. We will continue to amplify the voices of those in Iran who are standing up to the Islamic Republic, as well as continuing our themes of supporting political prisoners and #NoToExecutions. The Islamic Republic has been executing people rapidly and continues to silence the voices of Iranians as they become more visible in the public eye.”

During the rally several of Toomaj’s songs were played along with chanting and calls for his immediate release along with those of all political prisoners in Iran. His music has been described as “the voice of the bottom of society” by encompassing the wishes for all those who remain unheard in seeking their freedom.

The group BayArea4Iran is composed of Iranian Americans “unaffiliated with any political party or religious organization” espousing the sole purpose of “…echoing the voices of Iranian people around the slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’, fighting for their freedom, democracy, human rights and change of the brutal regime in Iran.”

Toomaj was first arrested in October of 2022 on various charges including for lyrics of a song he released that was critical of the regime and for making public statements in support of the then massive “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests that swept across the country in the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. In July 2023 he was convicted after a “closed door trail” without legal representation by the Isfahan Revolutionary Court on charges of “corruption on Earth” and sentenced to more than six years in prison but was later released by the Iranian Supreme Court in November of 2023 after reviewing his case.

He was then rearrested three weeks later and charged by the Isfahan court with “propaganda against the state” shortly after he spoke out about the torture he endured during his confinement.

On April 24, the Revolutionary Court in Isfahan issued a statement confirming that Toomaj had been sentenced to death. According to several reports, he now has a “20-day” window to file an appeal to the sentence before the Supreme Court, and “If the sentence is upheld, the judiciary’s amnesty commission would review his case to potentially commute the sentence.” His lawyer has been quoted as saying that Toomaj will appeal his death sentence.

Activists are asking for those concerned to call both the White House and the State Department to demand they begin putting pressure on Iran in calling for Toomaj’s release as soon as possible. They are hopeful, too, that Congress will soon introduce legislation described in a Congressional briefer as “Targeting Oppressive Officers to Mitigate Abuse in the Iranian Judiciary that would impose ‘…sanctions on judges, prosecutors and investigators of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Courts’ ” by passing the “Toomaj Act.”

Report and photo by Phil Pasquini

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