Statement: Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi sentenced to death
Index on Censorship has issued a joint statement with ARC and PEN America condemning a decision by an Iranian revolutionary court
26 Apr 24

Iranian hip-hop artist and rapper Toomaj Salehi

Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), PEN America, and Index on Censorship strongly condemn the death sentence imposed on Iranian rapper and human rights defender Toomaj Salehi for “spreading corruption on Earth” issued by a revolutionary court in Tehran on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Salehi now faces possible execution, as his lawyer plans to appeal the sentence.

On 22 April 2024, Toomaj Salehi’s lawyers were notified that Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death on the charges of “participating in rebelling against state,” “gathering and colluding against national security,” “propaganda against state,” and “inciting riot.” Based on this decision, the charges amount to “corruption on earth,” which is punishable by the death penalty under the Islamic Penal Code. The ruling also includes a two-year travel ban, a two-year ban on practicing art, and mandatory participation in a “behavior management and knowledge skill” organized by the Isfahan Province Judiciary Courthouse.

“Salehi’s death sentence is an outrageous attack on human rights and free expression. We condemn this abhorrent act of the Revolutionary Court and demand the immediate release of Salehi, who has suffered constant persecution at the hands of the Iranian authorities since 2022,” said Julie Trébault, director of Artists at Risk Connection. “Artists like Salehi, who use their creativity to express dissent against draconian and unjust measures by authoritarian regimes, must be safeguarded from such deliberate violence in recognition of the universal and fundamental right to free expression and artistic freedom. We stand in solidarity with Salehi and other prisoners of conscience who remain detained and persecuted for championing artistic freedom and human rights.”

Salehi was arrested in October 2022 after publicly backing the mass protest movement triggered by the killing of Mahsa Amini by Iranian security forces following her arrest for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab. He had released rap songs and social media posts in support of the protests and criticizing the government. Salehi was sentenced to six years in prison but was freed on bail on November 18, 2023, after having spent 252 days in solitary detention. Upon his release, he appeared in a video in which he talked about suffering torture while in detention and was rearrested two weeks later.

In January 2024, Salehi was sentenced by Iranian authorities to one year of imprisonment. Additionally, his passport had been annulled for two years and was required to mandatorily participate in a behavioral management course.

Salehi’s charges and death sentence from the Iranian revolutionary court are in stark contradiction to the earlier verdict announced by Iran’s Supreme Court in November 2023, when it confirmed that it had identified “flaws in the original sentence” and ordered his release. Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court has dismissed the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling as an “advisory opinion” and added two more charges, which carry the death penalty.

Since the beginning of 2024, ARC notes the escalation in persecution and imprisonment of several Iranian artists and musicians. Earlier this week, ARC, PEN America, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists Rights, and Freedom Cartoonists Foundation condemned the arrest and mistreatment of Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani, calling for her immediate release. Iranian musicians, including rapper Vafa Ahmadpour (known as Vafadar), Saman Yasin, a Kurdish rapper, and Grammy award-winning Shervin Hajipour, have received sentences including imprisonment and travel bans.

PEN America’s Freedom To Write Index reported the jailing of at least 57 writers for their work in 2022, making Iran the second-highest jailer of writers in the world. On December 10, 2023, imprisoned Iranian writer, human rights activist, and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write awardee Narges Mohammadi was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. PEN America and ARC continue to demand her immediate release.

In 2023, Toomaj Salehi was Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award winner in the Arts category.