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Rapper Toomaj Salehi sentenced to death, says lawyer

Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi wrote songs in support of the protest movement in Iran following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in 2022. He has been in jail for over a year.

Popular Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi was sentenced to death over his role in supporting the protest movement triggered by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, Iranian reformist newspaper Shargh Daily reported quoting the musician's lawyer. 

"Branch 1 of Isfahan Revolutionary Court ... sentenced Toomaj Salehi to death on the charge of corruption on Earth," the singer's lawyer Amir Raisian told the newspaper. 

The charge covers a broad range of offenses including those related to Islamic morality and can carry the death penalty.

Salehi, 33, was arrested for showing support for anti-government protests, following the death of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini in September 2022. He had also written songs about the protests.

What is Salehi accused of?

The court "in an unprecedented move, emphasized its independence and did not implement the Supreme Court's ruling", Raisian said, adding that "we will certainly appeal against the sentence".

The Revolutionary Court had accused Salehi of "assistance in sedition, assembly and collusion, propaganda against the system and calling for riots", the lawyer said.

The Iranian judiciary has not confirmed the sentence yet. Salehi has 20 days to appeal the ruling.

Salehi was freed on bail on November 18, Raisian said at the time, adding the Supreme Court had found "flaws in the initial sentence" of six years in prison. The rapper was rearrested less than two weeks later.

In the months of unrest that followed Amini's death on September 16, 2022, hundreds of people were killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands more were arrested.

Iranian officials called the protests "riots" and accused Tehran's foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.

Second publication by courtesy of DW

A death sentence issued in Iran against dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi underscores the glaring unlawfulness and injustice of the Islamic Republic’s judicial system, which has been weaponized and used as a tool by the state security forces to crush dissent and perpetuate political repression, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“Not only was Toomaj imprisoned for participating in a peaceful protest, but now a lower court, acting as a willful instrument of the state’s security apparatus, has unlawfully sentenced him to death, disregarding the supreme court’s decision to overturn the initial verdict of a prison sentence,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“This grotesque manipulation of the judicial process aims to silence dissent,” Ghaemi continued. “Toomaj’s imprisonment stems from his vocal advocacy against state oppression. It is imperative that supporters of free speech and dissent unite to demand his immediate release.”

In an interview with the Shargh daily in Iran, on April 24, 2024, one of Toomaj’s lawyers, Amir Raesian, noted that in sentencing Toomaj to death on the charge of “corruption of earth,” Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Isfahan “in an unprecedented action, did not comply with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Toomaj Salehi’s [prison sentence on the charge of ‘corruption on earth’], calling it a ‘guidance,’ and instead, emphasizing the independence of the lower court, sentenced Toomaj Salehi to the harshest punishment, i.e. death, on the charge of corruption on earth.”

Raesian added that the court, after considering the charges of aiding in rebellion, assembly and collusion [against national security], propaganda against the state, and inciting riots, the subjects of Articles and 286 of the Islamic Penal Code, “emphasized that the wide extent of corruption had been ascertained and issued the death sentence against Mr. Salehi” but that previously “this court branch did not conclude that acts of corruption on earth had taken place.”

“But the strangest thing is that in addition to the death penalty, the court sentenced Toomaj Salehi to a two-year ban on leaving the country, two-year ban on artistic activities and participation in behavior management classes in the Isfahan judiciary,” he added. “The court also enforced an earlier suspended sentence against Toomaj Salehi.”

“We will definitely lodge an appeal,” said Raesian.

Imprisoned for Engaging in Dissent, Facing Death for Refusing to be Silent

In his first trial, Salehi was sentenced to 18 years and 3 months of  imprisonment for the charge of “corruption on earth,” for which he would have to serve more than 6 years and 3 months.

In an interview with CHRI, Saeid Dehghan, a human rights lawyer who spent years defending dissidents and political prisoners in Iran and the director and founder of Parsi Law, explained how the ruling has violated fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic’s own judicial system.

“Firstly, the revolutionary court was obliged to adhere to the decisions of the Supreme Court and couldn’t issue a death sentence. Secondly, it couldn’t add two more supplementary punishments instead of reducing the charges from 6 to 3. Thirdly, it couldn’t bring all other accusations, including propaganda, assembly, and collusion, under the guise of corruption on earth,” he said.

“The reason for issuing this verdict, violating all these fundamental laws, is simply because the head of the first branch of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court is also the chief of the Isfahan Provincial Revolutionary Court and takes orders from senior security authorities, especially the Revolutionary Guards,” added Dehghan.

“In other words, the same organization that orchestrated the security scenario against this young rapper is the one dictating the sentence,” he said.

Salehi, aged 34, is known in Iran for his courageous stance as an underground rapper who fearlessly confronts human rights violations and political repression in the Islamic Republic through his music.

Hailing from Shahin Shahr in Isfahan Province, Salehi has spent the majority of the past 19 months behind bars. His ordeal began with his arrest in October 2022 by agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence organization for participating in widespread anti-state protests known as the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

In July 2023, Salehi was handed a sentence of 18 years and 3 months in prison on charges of “corruption on earth.” This charge, often used to stifle dissent, carries severe penalties, including the death penalty. Salehi’s supposed “crimes” were tied to the content of his lyrics, which scrutinized state policies, including ethnic discrimination and insufficient legal protections for child laborers, as well as his involvement in a street protest.

Granted bail on November 18, 2023, while his case was referred to a lower court in Isfahan, Salehi’s freedom was short-lived. Less than two weeks later, on November 30, he was rearrested by plainclothes agents armed with “Kalashnikovs and handguns” after publicly disclosing the torture he endured while in state custody.

“Despite blatant legal violations, Toomaj’s life hangs in the balance,” Ghaemi said.

“The world’s silence in response to this blatant effort to silence dissent against Toomaj and anyone daring to challenge the Islamic Republic will only embolden further rights abuses by the state security apparatus,” he said.


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