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International Campaign to Save Toomaj Salehi Gains Momentum

April 26, 2024
4 min read
International Campaign to Save Toomaj Salehi Gains Momentum

Thousands of people around the world are taking to the streets this weekend to protest against an injustice: the imminent death sentence imposed by Iran’s government against an innocent protest rapper named Toomaj Salehi.

Toomaj was first arrested in October 2022, in Iran, for supporting the popular Woman, Life, Freedom movement that erupted after the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini. He had been hiding from security forces for two months before they found him.

His ordeal began on a cold night, that October, when Toomaj, 33, blindfolded and covered in blood, was detained by the authorities. He is accused of “spreading corruption on earth,” a grave charge in the Islamic Republic which is punishable by death.

Toomaj is a renowned rapper in Iran – as well as a mechanical engineer and lathe worker who uses his salary to produce protest songs against the Islamic Republic. He even sold his motorcycle to fund his music. Toomaj has been fearless in using his music to instil courage in others.

On Wednesday, Amir Raisian, one of Toomaj’s lawyers, confirmed to Iran’s Shargh newspaper the death sentence issued against the rapper by Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court. Toomaj’s account on X had already hinted at the verdict before the official announcement.

Toomaj’s post expressed concern not for himself but for the psychological wellbeing of his fans.

The death sentence has sparked widespread outcry in Iran and around the world. Politicians, artists, and civil society actors have joined forces in calling for the sentence to be annulled.

Protest demonstrations to support Toomaj are scheduled to take place in several global cities on the weekend of 27-28 April.

In late 2022, as the Woman, Life, Freedom movement was spreading across Iran and capturing imaginations around the world, Toomaj released songs criticizing the Iranian government and supporting protestors’ demands for more freedoms and women's rights.

He also posted pictures and videos of himself at the demonstrations and called for a change of government in his videos.

In July 2023, months after his first arrest, a court sentenced the artist to six years and three months in prison. But he was released on bail on November 18, 2023, after Iran’s Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence" and returned the case to a lower court for reexamination and a possible retrial.

Toomaj was arrested again and returned to jail less than two weeks later. He then faced new charges after he had posted a video describing the torture he faced in prison during his initial detention.

A few months ago, during an appearance in a Clubhouse social media room, Toomaj discussed his lifelong passion for poetry. The ancient Iranian poet Omar Khayyam is his favorite. Writing poetry of his own has also been a sanctuary during challenging times.

Toomaj comes from an ethnic minority in Iran, the Lor Bakhtiari community, and he is a proud speaker of the Bakhtiari dialect. Raised amid the bustling streets of Isfahan and Shahinshahr, he earned two degrees, following his father into engineering. But his father also spent eight years in jail as a political prisoner.

Toomaj’s musical journey began at the age of 7 when he learned and mastered the tonbak – a traditional Iranian drum. His initiation into rap came through his brother and ignited a passion that has defined his life. By 2015 he was immersed in making music.

He was once detained for wearing a t-shirt covered in images of US dollars during a performance. In a conversation published to YouTube, he mused on the different meanings of his name, finally embracing the Turkmen interpretation of "brave rider" for himself.

Toomaj also finds solace and release in boxing – a daily ritual that anchors him except for those times when prison walls have closed in or gym doors have remained shut.

Iqbal Iqbali, Toomaj’s uncle, who lives outside Iran, said in a recent interview that his nephew had left him a message just hours before his arrest in which he voiced concerns about suspicious activities near his home.

Toomaj’s family and friends say he was injured during the arrest. Images that circulated at the time showed his bloody face after his capture.

The death sentence handed down against him has sparked a wave of outrage, grief, but also determination, with fans, fellow citizens and concerned people around the world seeing Toomaj as a powerful voice for the cause of freedom and human rights. His plight is the same as the plight of hundreds or thousands of Iranians: it is emblematic of Iran’s broader struggle for freedom and justice for all.

Civil activists, social media users, and ordinary Iranian citizens have denounced the death sentence. Many say Toomaj Salehi is the voice of the Iranian people and have vowed to amplify his message.



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