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Society & Culture

Outrage Mounts as Iran Sentences Rapper Toomaj Salehi to Death

April 25, 2024
Roghayeh Rezaei
5 min read
The death sentence handed down to protest rapper Toomaj Salehi has sparked a wave of grief and determination among his fans and fellow citizens, who view him as a powerful voice for their cause.
The death sentence handed down to protest rapper Toomaj Salehi has sparked a wave of grief and determination among his fans and fellow citizens, who view him as a powerful voice for their cause.
The Revolutionary Court of Isfahan, which issued this verdict, seemingly disregarded the previous decision of the country's highest judicial authority
The Revolutionary Court of Isfahan, which issued this verdict, seemingly disregarded the previous decision of the country's highest judicial authority

The death sentence handed down to protest rapper Toomaj Salehi has sparked a wave of grief and determination among his fans and fellow citizens, who view him as a powerful voice for their cause.

Amir Raisian, his lawyer, said the verdict is riddled with "obvious legal contradictions" and "strangeness."

The Revolutionary Court of Isfahan, which issued this verdict, disregarded the previous decision of the country's highest judicial authority.

The Supreme Court had rejected accusations of "corruption on Earth" against Salehi. However, the Isfahan court considered the top court's stance only as "guidance" and stressed the "independence" of lower courts. 

Despite this, the court proceeded to sentence the singer, popular among the young generation, to death.

The reaction to Salehi's death sentence has been a mix of anger, sadness, and unwavering determination. 

Civil activists, social media users, and citizens alike have voiced their opposition to this decision.

Before the official announcement, reactions had already begun circulating when a government-affiliated news site first reported his sentencing. 

Since then, a groundswell of support has emerged, with many declaring Salehi as the voice of the Iranian people and vowing to amplify his message.

Even the US Special Envoy for Iran condemned the sentencing, saying on X: "We strongly condemn Toomaj Salehi's death sentence and the five-year sentence for Kurdish-Iranian rapper Saman Yasin. We call for their immediate release. These are the latest examples of the regime's brutal abuse of its own citizens, disregard for human rights, and fear of the democratic change the Iranian people seek."

Prominent figures in the activism and human rights community Iranhave also spoken out against the sentence. 

Mehdi Yerrahi, a fellow protest singer who himself faced imprisonment, condemned the verdict as a farce and demanded Salehi's unconditional release.

Similarly, human rights activists Atena Daemi and Hossein Ronaghi, who have previously faced prison for their work, criticized the government's actions as an assault on people's rights and freedoms.

Daemi said, "From the perspective of the Islamic Republic, the act of supporting all segments of society is construed as corruption on earth. Issuing a death sentence for the beloved artist Toomaj Salehi means declaring a war on the people."

Ronaghi said, "Announcing the imposition of such a severe sentence on Toomaj Salehi signals a breakdown in the government's structure."

"If Toomaj is to receive such a severe punishment based on unfounded reasons and through a process that contradicts its own laws, then the execution implicates us all," he added. 

Amirsalar Davoudi, a human rights defender and lawyer imprisoned in Evin prison, in a letter, condemned the death sentence.

In the letter, obtained by IranWire, Davoudi urged the Supreme Court judges to "resign in order to preserve their legal and judicial rights." 

He also highlighted the concerning trend within Iran's judiciary, where lower branches persist in implementing decisions contrary to those of the Supreme Court.

Salehi's supporters in Isfahan and Tehran remain steadfast in their determination to fight for his freedom. 

They recall his commitment to being the voice of the marginalized and vow to continue his legacy of resistance through whatever means necessary.

For many, Salehi's music has been a source of solace and empowerment, particularly for women. 

His artistry and courage in speaking out against injustices have earned him admiration and respect. 

Despite the dark cloud of his impending execution, his supporters refuse to lose hope, seeing his plight as emblematic of a broader struggle for justice and freedom in Iran.

On Wednesday, Amir Raisian, one of Salehi's lawyers, confirmed to the Shargh newspaper the death sentence issued to the artist by Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court. 

Before this confirmation, from Dastgerd prison in Isfahan, Salehi purportedly posted a message on the social media platform X hinting at the verdict without disclosing details. He expressed concern for his fans' psychological well-being, especially considering their young age and health.

Salehi was initially arrested in October 2022 after voicing support for the nationwide Woman, Life, Freedom protests that had erupted in September of that year. 

He released songs criticizing the government and supporting the protests demanding more freedoms and women's rights. 

He also posted pictures and videos of himself during the demonstrations.

In July 2023, a court sentenced the artist to six years and three months in prison for "corruption on Earth." 

He was released on bail on November 18 last year after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence" and returned the case to a lower court for reexamination and possible retrial. 

Salehi was returned to jail less than two weeks later to face new charges after publicly discussing his torture in prison in a video.

Amir Raisian explained to Shargh that the Isfahan Revolutionary Court considered charges such as "aiding sedition, assembly, collusion, anti-Islamic Republic propaganda, and inciting chaos as examples of corruption on Earth," leading to the issuance of the death sentence for Salehi.

Notably, this branch had previously refrained from confirming the severity of the "corruption on Earth" charge.

Moussa Berzin, a lawyer and legal advisor to IranWire, characterized the rejection of the Supreme Court's decision by the lower court as a "rare" and "innovative" move by the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

He expressed concern over the judiciary's handling of Salehi's case, highlighting the addition of new charges and the imposition of the death penalty.

According to Berzin, during the protests, Salehi faced various accusations, including "corruption on Earth," for which the initial Isfahan court sentenced him to six years and three months in prison, along with additional penalties such as a ban on artistic activities. 

However, upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the charges were deemed unfounded, and the sentence was recommended for reduction. 

Article 286 of Iranian penal law outlines severe penalties for offenses against public order, security, and integrity, including actions leading to widespread corruption or prostitution. 

Berzin criticized the lower court's decision to defy the Supreme Court's guidance and issue a harsher sentence, stressing the need for logical justification and proper investigation of the new charges.

Moreover, Berzin highlighted the lack of substantive evidence connecting Salehi's actions to the alleged crimes, particularly regarding his involvement in peaceful demonstrations. 

He argued against the notion that Salehi's calls for protests directly caused disturbances, emphasizing the absence of a clear causal relationship in this regard.

Addressing violations of Salehi's rights, Berzin condemned his prolonged solitary confinement, extensive interrogation without legal representation, and coercion tactics employed to extract confessions. 

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