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
Musician faces death sentence after three years of judicial harassment, including arrest, imprisonment and torture
10 May 24

Iranian hip-hop artist and 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