Iran’s supreme court overturns death sentence given to Toomaj Salehi

Today, 22 June 2024, Iran’s Supreme Court overturned the death sentence handed down in the case of rapper Toomaj Salehi on the basis that it was contrary to Iranian law and excessive. Salehi had been sentenced to death for alleged crimes including “corruption on earth,” but his conviction and sentence arose from him using his music and his voice to stand in support of Iranian women and to speak out about his treatment in prison. The Supreme Court’s decision means that Salehi will not be executed for exercising his fundamental rights.

This verdict is the culmination of more than three years of judicial harassment – including arrest, imprisonment, and torture – directed at Salehi, whose music and activism have supported protest movements across Iran, called out corruption, and pursued greater human rights for all Iranians.

The decision to sentence Salehi to death was handed down by Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court on 23 April 2024. 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 practicing art. The verdict flew in the face of the principles underpinning a functional and independent judiciary.

On 3 May 2024 an urgent appeal was filed with two United Nations Special Rapporteurs by an international legal team at Doughty Street Chambers, on behalf of the family of Toomaj Salehi and Index on Censorship. The legal team, Index on Censorship and the family are now working together with the Human Rights Foundation to ensure protection of Salehi’s rights.

Index on Censorship, the Human Rights Foundation and Salehi’s international legal team at Doughty Street Chambers welcomes today’s decision by the Supreme Court. It is a clear demonstration of the injustice of the lower court decision, and we are delighted that Salehi no longer faces the threat of execution. The Supreme Court found that the death sentence delivered to Salehi was excessive and failed to comply with Iranian law.

Whilst the Supreme Court’s decision is an important correction to Salehi’s cruel and unlawful treatment, it is critical that his rights are properly respected. Salehi’s case has been returned to Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court for resentencing. Even a shorter period of imprisonment would be an injustice: Salehi has done nothing other than to call for his, and other Iranians’, fundamental rights to be respected. He must be free to continue his music and seek the necessary medical care he needs following his imprisonment, free of any continued imprisonment, harassment or persecution.


Salehi, who was Index’s 2023 Freedom of Expression arts award winner, was first taken into custody on 30 October 2022, after posting videos of himself protesting. After an extended period of pre-trial detention, including significant time spent in solitary confinement, Salehi was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “corruption on earth,” as well as being banned from leaving Iran for two years. He was also banned from preparing, singing and producing music for two years.

In November 2023, Iran’s Supreme Court struck down Salehi’s six-year prison sentence and referred the case back to the court of first instance. It has since held that that sentence was excessive and unlawful. On 18 November, Salehi was released on bail only to be rearrested days later, after he uploaded a video to YouTube documenting his treatment while in detention. On 18 April 2024, Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court held a new trial for Salehi following the Supreme Court’s earlier decision. Nearly a week later, on 23 April, the court sentenced Salehi to death.

Responding to today’s Supreme Court ruling, Salehi’s cousin, Arezou Eghbali Babadi, and his friend and manager of his social media accounts, Negin Niknaam, made a joint statement, saying:

“The international community’s solidarity and support have played a crucial role in the release of Toomaj Salehi. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all who contributed in any way to this outcome. However, we must not lose sight of the unlawful and oppressive rules that continue to exert severe psychological pressure on freedom seekers, their families, and society as a whole in Iran.

While we urge for Toomaj’s unconditional freedom and look forward to seeing him as soon as possible, we cannot forget the injustices we faced during this period. Our struggle continues as we seek justice for those prisoners who remain under the threat of the death sentence. It is imperative that we remain vigilant and persistent in our efforts to support all who bravely stand against oppression and demand a just and fair legal system in Iran.”

Jemimah Steinfeld, CEO of Index on Censorship, said:

“While of course we welcome the Supreme Court’s decision today it should not have been needed as Toomaj should never have been arrested in the first place. His courageous music, standing for women and fighting for the rights of everyone in Iran should be celebrated. Instead the Iranian authorities have done everything they can to target, isolate and persecute Toomaj. We hope that this decision today will allow Toomaj to seek the medical treatment he needs and continue his vital work. And we’d like to take this moment to highlight all the others who remain imprisoned in Iran simply for calling for freedom. We call on Iran to release them immediately.”

Claudia Bennett, a legal and programs officer, Human Rights Foundation, said:

“Toomaj’s case is emblematic of the brutality of dictatorships. They use arbitrary detention to silence dissidents and those advocating for democracy and human rights. Toomaj’s crime was singing a song and posting on social media. Something that we in democracies take for granted.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, international counsel for Salehi’s family, Index on Censorship, and the Human Rights Foundation, added:

“Toomaj Salehi uses his powerful art – his rapping, his music, his words – to support human rights, democracy and freedom for the Iranian people. For this, the Iranian authorities have targeted him for years, attempting to silence him through arrests, imprisonment, torture, assaults, and even a death sentence.

The Iranian Supreme Court’s decision is a welcome correction to the most recent injustice imposed on Salehi, and we welcome the fact that his life has been spared. But this is not enough. Salehi’s immediate and unconditional release must follow. We urge the international community to keep the pressure up at this critical time, to secure Salehi’s freedom and hold Iran to account for its egregious violations of international human rights law.”

Further details of the urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs are available here.
Any press queries for Index on Censorship should be directed to Jemimah Steinfeld on [email protected].
Any press queries for the Human Rights Foundation should be directed to [email protected].
Any press queries for the international legal team should be directed to [email protected] or [email protected].
More background about Toomaj Salehi is available on social media, at @OfficialToomaj (X) and @ToomajOfficial (Instagram). More details of the campaign can be found at #FreeToomaj.

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].