Iranian Rapper Sentenced To Death For Supporting Women’s Rights

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Iranian hip-hop artist Toomaj Salehi was arrested in October 2022 for his involvement in the women’s rights protests that swept the country following the death of Mahsa Amini a month prior. He dodged the death penalty last July, but is once again facing an order of execution.

Who Is Toomaj Salehi?

Toomaj Salehi is a 33-year-old Iranian hip-hop artist who was born in Gerd Bisheh. He regularly goes viral for criticizing the Iranian government in his rap songs, but he also has a day job as a laborer at a metalworking factory.

Source: Flickr/Max Gerlach

Salehi is a heavy supporter of the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran – known locally as ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi.’ His raps and public statements about women’s rights have landed him in jail several times, but he’s now teetering on the edge of life and death.

Salehi Has Gotten In “Trouble” Before

The Iranian rap star first started making headlines with his arrest on September 12, 2021. Security forces detained him at his house and he was later charged with ‘propaganda against the regime’ and ‘insulting the supreme leadership authority.’

Source: Flickr/Max Gerlach

He was released on bail nine days later, but was sentenced to six months in jail in January 2022 – and was also slapped with a fine. Salehi did his time and paid his dues, but things only got worse in the following months – and continue to worsen to this day.

Sept. 2022: Mahsa Amini Dies In Police Custody

On September 13, 2022, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini was arrested at the entry of the Shahid Haghani Expressway in Tehran for wearing a hijab that failed to meet government standards. She died in a hospital three days later, sparking a world of controversy.

Source: Flickr/Taymaz Valley

Iranian officials say she had a heart attack after being detained and entered a coma before arriving at the hospital. Eywitnesses refute that claim and, instead, report that Amini was severely beaten by Iranian officials and died as a result of police brutality.

Protests Erupt Across The Country

Amini’s death and the controversy surrounding it caused a series of violent protests that some outlets described as the largest Iranian protests since at least 2009. It was her death that sparked the creation of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.

Source: Flickr/Alisdare Hickson

Unfortunately, Iranian officials weren’t willing to admit their wrongdoing and doubled down on their policies. Between September and December 2022, nearly 500 civilians were killed by police as a result of the protests – and nearly 20,000 others were arrested.

Oct. 2022: Toomaj Salehi Arrested For Speaking Out

Toomaj Salehi was one of those 20,000 people who were arrested for speaking out against the Iranian government. Security forces detained him on October 30, 2022 in the province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari – roughly three hours from his home.

Source: Instagram/Toomaj Salehi

While it’s unclear what exactly led to his arrest, his most recent music video (at the time) included the following lyric: “Someone’s crime was dancing with her hair in the wind. Someone’s crime was that he or she was brave and criticized… 44 years of your government. It’s the year of failure.”

July 2023: Salehi Avoids Death Penalty

Salehi was initially charged with spreading lies online, creating propaganda against the Iranian government, inciting violence, and ‘having formed and managed illegal groups with the aim of disrupting security in cooperation with a government hostile,’ according to Metro.

Source: Instagram/Toomaj Salehi

He was also accused of ‘corruption on Earth,’ one of Iran’s most serious offenses that carries a maximum sentence of death. He ended up dodging the death penalty and was, instead, sentenced to six years in prison in July 2023.

Nov. 2023: Salehi Released On Bail

Things started turning up for Salehi on November 18, when he was released on bail after the Supreme Court found flaws in his initial sentence. Following his release, he posted a video accusing the state of torturing him and placing him in solitary confinement for 252 days straight.

Source: Instagram/Toomaj Salehi

His case was ultimately sent to a lower court, but it took a turn for the worse when he was, yet again, arrested by Iranian officials – this time for spreading ‘fake news’ about the state online.

April 2024: Sentenced To Death Penalty

That brings us to just a few days ago – when Toomaj Salehi was sentenced to the death penalty. He can, and will, appeal the decision, but only has 20 days to do so. We’re still awaiting official confirmation from the Iranian judiciary, but Salehi’s lawyer says it’s true.

Source: Instagram/Toomaj Salehi

“Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of (the central city of) Isfahan in an unprecedented move, did not enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling… and sentenced Salehi to the harshest punishment,” Salehi’s lawyer shared on April 24.

Saman Yasin Sentenced To 5 Years In Prison

Salehi isn’t the only Iranian artist facing criminal charges as a result of the protests in 2022. Saman Yasin – another Iranian rapper – was initially sentenced to the death penalty for his involvement in the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ protests.

Source: Instagram/Saman Yasin

Luckily for him, the Supreme Court overruled the death penalty and, instead, sentenced him to five years in prison. Since being taken into custody, Yasin has conducted at least one hunger strike and has even called for the death penalty instead of being detained.

Mehdi Yarrahi Also Spending Time In Jail

Mehdi Yarrahi is another Iranian rapper who published music videos in protest of Amini’s death in 2022. He was arrested in August 2023, but was temporarily released in October after posting bail – worth 150 billion rials (approximately $300,000).

Source: Instagram/Mehdi Yarrahi

He was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison in January – and was also sentenced to 74 lashes. Other celebrities to receive punishment include Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayon Riahi, and Pantea Bahram.

United States Calls For Immediate Release

On April 24, the United States Office of the Special Envoy for Iran published a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) condemning Salehi’s death sentence, as well as the five-year sentence for Yasin.

Source: valentynsemenov via Canva

“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,” the Special Envoy wrote on X.

Atena Farghadani Beaten For Hanging Art

Unfortunately for those living in Iran, the government doesn’t seem to be stopping their antics anytime soon. Earlier this month, another woman was severely beaten by police – this time for hanging her political art on the walls around the presidential palace in Tehran.

Source: Wikimedia/Persion-Georg’s-Church

Farghadani is currently refusing bail and has since been transferred to the Evin Prison – where most activists have spent time for their crimes. Even Farghadani is no stranger to the prison, having served several months there 10 years ago.

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Ryan Handson

Written by Ryan Handson

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