Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani sentenced to six years in prison

We are dismayed to learn that the Iranian activist, artist, and cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to a total of six years in prison; five years for “insulting the sacred” and one year for “propaganda against the State”. This sentence was handed down by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Revolutionary Court on Monday, June 10, as confirmed by lawyer Mohammad Moghimi via social media. The maximum penalties are indicative of the Iranian regime’s long-standing determination to persecute and silence this courageous rights defender.

Atena Farghadani had been detained since 13 April 2024 after attempting to display a drawing in a public space, not far from the presidential palace in Tehran. Over the past decade, she has been regularly monitored and harassed due to her art and activities opposing the repression of rights in Iran, especially those of women and children.

Previously jailed in 2014-16, and again for a short period last summer, Atena Farghadani risks coming to harm within the penal system. In 2023 she alleged an attempted poisoning. At the time of her arrest this year she reported that she suffered severe injuries from Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel.

Artwork by Atena Farghadani was recently exhibited in Norway, at the sixteenth Oslo Forum for Freedom (OFF) organized by the Human Rights Foundation, dedicated to “reclaiming democracy”. In the presence of human rights defenders from around the world, Atena Farghadani’s representative Mohammad Moghimi ensured that her voice was heard, a voice that is both brave and righteous, and is targeted because she dares to defy oppression and injustice in her country.

Our organizations call for her immediate release and that she be returned to her family unharmed.

Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)
Association of Canadian Cartoonists
Cartooning for Peace
Cartoon Movement
Cartoonists Rights
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Forum for Humor and the Law
Freedom Cartoonists Foundation
Index on Censorship
Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation

Sting, Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak and Coldplay join more than 100 artists, musicians, writers and leading cultural figures to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi

On 24 April 2024 Iranian songwriter and rapper, Toomaj Salehi, was sentenced to death for using his voice and his music to call out the human rights abuses of the Iranian regime.

Salehi’s death sentence is the culmination of three years of judicial harassment, including arrest, imprisonment and torture. His persecution has intensified since the 2022-23 protests in Iran. These protests, which Salehi supported, followed Mahsa Amini’s death while in the custody of the morality police.

Many of Salehi’s songs refer to the human rights situation in Iran, explicitly criticising the regime and calling for fundamental rights, including women’s rights, to be upheld. Last October, Salehi received Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award in the arts category

As artists, musicians, writers and leading cultural figures we stand in solidarity with Toomaj Salehi. We call for his death sentence to be immediately and unconditionally quashed and for him to be released from detention without delay, with all other charges dismissed. 

Art must be allowed to criticise, to provoke, to question and to challenge authority. That is both our right and our duty as artists. “Now, free hair is dancing — playing with the wind.” Salehi says in the song Shallagh (Whip) recorded with the Iranian rapper, Justine, supporting the young people taking part in the 2022-23 protests in support of women’s rights. 

No artist should be subject to any kind of judicial harassment for exercising their right to freedom of expression, much less be sentenced to death.


David Aaronovitch, writer and broadcaster

Yasmin Abdel-Magied, writer

Majid Adin, animator and illustrator

Rashad Ali, researcher

Lord David Alton, peer

Sara Amini, theatre director

Ruth Anderson, CEO of Index on Censorship

Kerry Andrew, writer and musician

Professor Ali Ansari, historian

John Armah, culture board trustee

Mona Arshi, poet

Neal Ascherson, writer

Margaret Atwood, writer

Ganjei Babak, visual artist

Tamara Baschak, pianist

Karima Benoune, law professor and former UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights

Steve Beresford, musician and lecturer

Nazanin Boniadi, actress and campaigner

Roya Boroumand, co-founder and executive director of Aborrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran

Elli Brazzill, founder, Art Not Evidence

Simon Brodkin, comedian

Bill Browder, writer and human rights campaigner

Tina Brown, CBE, journalist, editor and author

Shereener Browne, actor, theatre maker & barrister

Alastair Campbell, writer and communicator 

Matthew Caruana Galizia, director, Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

Stevie Chick, writer and editor

Jasmina Cibic, artist and filmmaker

Coldplay, musicians

Andrew Copson, chief executive, Humanists UK

Rob da Bank, DJ

Hossein Dabbagh, philosopher

Stephen Dalton, arts journalist 

Matthew d’Ancona, journalist and author 

Andy Diagram, musician

Jonathan Dimbleby, broadcaster and historian

Kwame Djemjem, teacher

John Doran, writer and editor

Graham Dowdall, musician and lecturer

Catherine Dunne, writer and chair, Irish PEN

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Laureate

Inua Ellams, writer and curator

Barbara Ellen, journalist 

Zlata Filipovic, writer and documentary maker

Lord Daniel Finkelstein, journalist and politician 

Viviana Fiorenino, writer and board member, Irish PEN

Cassie Fox, lecturer and musician 

Andrew Franklin, publisher, and trustee of Index on Censorship

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, human rights lawyer, and acting for Toomaj Salehi’s family

Elizabeth T Grey Jr, poet and translator

Hadi Ghaemi, founder and director of Center for Human Rights in Iran

Maryam Grace, actor and writer

Malu Halasa, writer

Dana Haqjoo, actor

Dr Patrick Hassan, philosopher and musician

Charles Hayward, musician

Lord John Hendy KC, peer and human rights lawyer

Afua Hirsch, writer and broadcaster

Rosie Holt, comedian

Gwyneth Hughes, screenwriter 

Bianca Jagger, founder and president of the Bianca Human Rights Foundation Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador to Abolish the Death Penalty

Lanna Joffrey, actor and writer

Professor David Kaye, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, peer and human rights lawyer

David Knopfler, recording artist 

Shaparak Khorsandi, comic and author

Angela Last, cultural geographer, musician and label owner

Lumli Lumlong, artists

Rahima Mahmut, musician and human rights campaigner

Kate Maltby, writer and deputy chair of Index on Censorship

Colum McCann, writer

Val McDermid, writer and broadcaster

Professor Juan Méndez, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Fiona Millar, journalist

Keir Monteith KC, barrister

Helen Mountfield KC, principal of Mansfield College Oxford and trustee of Index on Censorship

Joe Muggs, writer

Dr Phil Mullen, musician and educator

Joe Murphy, writer

Azar Nafisi, writer and professor

Ayat Najafi, film director and screenwriter

Roshi Nasehi, musician and theatre-maker

Ramita Navai, journalist

John Norton, radio producer and artist

Sir Ben Okri, poet and novelist 

Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, associate professor, London School of Economics

Matthew Parris, writer and broadcaster

Matteo Pericoli, artist

Trevor Phillips, broadcaster and chair of Index on Censorship

Professor Eithne Quinn, University of Manchester academic

Izzy Rabey, director

Nora Rahimian, anti-capitalist business coach and #CultureFix co-founder

Kaveh Rahnama, director and programme creator

Richard Ratcliffe, campaigner

Dafydd Huw Rees, philosopher

Damien Rice, musician

Joe Robertson, writer

Ian Rosenblatt, lawyer and trustee of Index on Censorship

Maryam Sandjari Hashemi, multidisciplinary artist 

Philippe Sands, writer

Dr Katherine Schofield, senior lecturer in South Asian Music and history, King’s College London

Elif Shafak, novelist

Kamila Shamsie, novelist

Bill Shipsey, founder and director of Art for Human Rights

Reza Shirmarz, playwright

Peter Sís, artist

Simon Speare, composer and teacher

Mark Stephens, CBE, free speech lawyer, Howard Kennedy LLP and trustee of Index on Censorship

Sting, musician

David Stubbs, writer

Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, artist, writer and academic

Ghafar Tajmohammad, artist and curatorial project manager at the Migration Museum 

Jade Thirlwall, musician 

Mark Thomas, comedian

Salil Tripathi, writer

Roxana Vilk, actor and musician 

Amber Wilkinson, journalist

Vanessa Wilson-Best, musician and director of music

Lord Stewart Wood, peer

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, former hostage and campaigner 

Liza Zahra, actor

Vahid Zarezadeh, filmmaker

Urgent appeal filed with United Nations for Iranian rapper sentenced to death for his music

An urgent appeal has been filed with two United Nations Special Rapporteurs on behalf of the family of Toomaj Salehi, an Iranian rapper and activist who has been sentenced to death in Iran.

Mr Salehi has been repeatedly imprisoned for his art – his rap music and videos – which is critical of Iranian authorities. Despite being arrested and released in 2021 for his music, Mr Salehi continued to make music and post videos expressing his opposition to the Iranian regime. After the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, following her arrest for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab, Mr Salehi took part in the protests calling for justice and released multiple rap songs and videos speaking out for women’s rights.

In October 2022, he was arrested for his involvement in the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement and protests triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death. He was sentenced to over six years’ imprisonment, but then released in November 2023 when Iran’s Supreme Court identified flaws in his sentence. Two weeks later, however, he was re-arrested after recording a video in which he spoke about having been tortured in prison. In January 2024, he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and began serving that sentence.

On 23 April 2024, Mr Salehi’s domestic lawyer in Iran was notified that Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court had sentenced Mr Salehi to death. His death sentence was handed down for crimes including “participating in rebelling against state”, “gathering and colluding against national security”, and “propaganda against state”. The charges were said to amount to “corruption on Earth” which is punishable by death under the Islamic Penal Code. The ruling also includes a two-year travel ban and a two-year ban on practising art.

The appeal window within Iran is very short: 20 days from 23 April 2024. There is profound concern that the Iranian authorities may move very quickly following any appeal by Salehi to implement the sentence, particularly given the documented increase in executions in Iran. An April 2024 report by Amnesty International found that the Iranian authorities had executed at least 853 people last year, the highest number for eight years, transforming Iranian prisons into sites of mass killings.

A team of international lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers is acting for Toomaj Salehi’s family and Index on Censorship. Last night, they filed an Urgent Appeal with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They submit that Iran is in violation of its international legal obligations, failing to respect multiple rights of Mr Salehi’s, including his rights to life, to be free from torture, to a fair trial, and to freedom of expression.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Jonathan Price, Sam Jacobs and Nikila Kaushik are instructed by Mr Salehi’s family and Index on Censorship, which is also supporting Mr Salehi and his family. Mr Salehi was Index on Censorship’s 2023 Freedom of Expression Art Award winner, recognising the importance of his work and his courage.

Mr Salehi’s cousin, Arezou Eghbali Babadi, welcomed the filing of the UN Urgent Appeal, and said: “The international community must stand in solidarity with Toomaj Salehi and all those who bravely speak out against injustice and oppression in Iran. Failure to act would not only imperil Toomaj’s life and well-being but would also embolden the Iranian regime to continue its harsh treatment of political prisoners which mostly meant to intimidate people and suppress dissent.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, international counsel for Toomaj Salehi’s family and Index on Censorship, said: “Toomaj Salehi is a brilliant, brave, talented artist, who uses his music and his videos to stand up to the barbaric Iranian regime and to support the Iranian people’s struggle for human rights, democracy and freedom. The Iranian authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Toomaj. He has been unjustly imprisoned, prosecuted, beaten and tortured. Now, in a grotesque abuse of power, the Isfahan Revolutionary Court has sentenced Toomaj to death for his art – for his music and his words. This is flagrant flouting by Iran of its international legal obligations in its drive to quell any dissent, no matter how peaceful, and in its violent and lethal war against its own people.”

Nik Williams, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Index on Censorship, has said: “The death sentence given to Toomaj Salehi is a grotesque abuse of power by a regime that has criminalised dissent, art and expression. While Toomaj is one of thousands who have been persecuted following the tragic death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, his case symbolises the bravery of everyone who has spoken up. This is why Index is honoured to be working with his family and Doughty Street Chambers to try to secure his release. No one should be sentenced to death for their music or for standing as an ally to the courageous women who have been protesting since 2022.”

The Urgent Appeal asks that the UN Special Rapporteurs take exceptionally urgent action given the gravity of the situation and the imminent risk to Mr Salehi’s life.

Notes to Editors:
Any press queries for the international legal team should be directed to [email protected] or +442074041313.
Any press queries for Index on Censorship should be directed to Jemimah Steinfeld on [email protected].

Nobody is safe from Iran’s protest crackdown

We at Index on Censorship were rocked by last week’s news that Iranian rapper and human rights defender Toomaj Salehi has been sentenced to death for “spreading corruption on earth” following his involvement in the country’s Woman, Life, Freedom protests. The news was widely received with outrage and triggered significant pushback. Protests took place in cities all over the world, while a social media campaign calling for his release led to the hashtag #FreeToomaj trending on X (formerly Twitter).  We joined with organisations PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) to voice our condemnation of the Iranian’s sentence.

At Index we are committed to campaigning for Toomaj – the winner of Index’s 2023 Arts Freedom of Expression Award – to be freed from his unjust and outrageous sentence. However, this is not an isolated case. Another Iranian, Abbas Daris, was also sentenced to death for his role in the protests in 2021, although he was granted a retrial in 2023. Iran Human Rights director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in a statement: “There’s no evidence against him but torture-tainted forced confessions, his sentence is unlawful not only according to international laws but even according to the Islamic Republic’s own laws.”

Similarly, in October 2023 Iranian Kurdish man Reza Rasaei, who was involved in the protests, was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder in a trial described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair” due to the use of Rasaei’s confessions obtained through torture as evidence. 

Other citizens have been jailed for their part in advocating for human rights. Asghar Nikoukar, a musician who played music at the graves of those killed during the protests, was sentenced to five years in prison. He has now been released but with an electronic tag, meaning he will spend the remainder of his sentence outside jail with limited mobility.

Earlier this week, news broke of one Iranian woman who had endured an even worse fate. A leaked document understood to have been written by Iran’s security forces revealed that Iranian teenager Nika Shakarami, who disappeared from an anti-regime protest in 2022 and whose body was found nine days later, was sexually assaulted and killed by three men. The Iran government claimed she took her own life.

The government has targeted those in the state fighting for women’s rights and human rights for many years, a worrying trend that has significantly increased since the Woman, Life, Freedom protests of 2022. The protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa “Jina” Amini in September of that year after being detained by Iran’s “morality police” for not wearing a headscarf. According to human rights groups, during the protests security forces used lethal force on protesters and killed more than 500 people.

Some of those who participated in the protests have already been executed by the Iranian regime. A report from two campaign groups – Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and France’s Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) – found that at least eight protesters were executed in 2023, six of whom had been arrested in relation to the Woman, Life, Freedom demonstrations and sentenced after unfair trials. 

“Instilling societal fear is the regime’s only way to hold on to power,” Iran Human Rights Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told the BBC in the wake of the report.

Salehi was already a well-known rapper who was renowned for his songs critiquing the Iranian regime, and had been arrested and imprisoned in 2021 for “propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the supreme leadership authority”. His decision to continue to throw his weight behind the Woman, Life, Freedom protests despite this is a testament to his incredible bravery. His case is incredibly important and urgent, as are the cases of the many others who have been punished for peaceful protesting. 

There is a risk that external affairs, such as the state’s current involvement in the Israel-Gaza war, has overshadowed the injustices faced by those inside the country. We published an interview with Iranian film-maker Vahid Zarezadeh last week, who expressed his concern that the fate of protesters in Iran are being forgotten under the circumstances.

“Governments often utilise external conflicts to divert attention from domestic issues,” Zarezadeh said.

Toomaj’s case cannot be viewed as a one-off, but as a result of the actions of an authoritarian state systematically persecuting those who speak out against the regime, whether or not they have a large profile. We can’t allow the extent of the issue to go under the radar.