Iran must not execute Toomaj Salehi and should free all political prisoners

Toomaj Salehi
Toomaj Salehi
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Published on 2 May 2024

Last week, a so-called Islamic Revolutionary Court issued a death sentence against Toomaj Salehi, one of Iran’s most prominent hip hop artists, who is widely respected and loved in his country as a “voice of the people”.

His music, shared by millions, offers powerful and often critical commentary on Iran’s society and the failures of its political and religious leaders. During the widespread protests following the brutal death of 22-year-old student Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022, he expressed his support for the millions of brave women and girls who took to the streets chanting “Woman! Life! Freedom!” Toomaj’s songs became a powerful soundtrack expressing the sentiments of a whole generation that feels like it has been cheated and brutalised by those in charge.

Toomaj Salehi

That was more than the regime could handle. Imprisoned almost continuously since October 2022 and repeatedly tortured, Toomaj was sentenced for what Iranian courts call “corruption on Earth”, an obscure charge that allows authorities to silence and eliminate essentially anyone perceived as a threat to the country’s brutal theocratic leaders.

Today, I join human rights advocates and organisations around the world in calling for the immediate release of Toomaj and all political prisoners in Iran. Open artistic expression should be welcomed and celebrated; it gives us opportunities to contemplate, reflect and debate. And it should never be persecuted – in Iran or elsewhere. Toomaj and so many others must be freed.

The death sentence for Toomaj is just the latest escalation in the brutal crackdown that followed the brave 2022 protests. In 2023, Iranian authorities carried out at least 853 executions, most for non-violent drug offences, but also many against people who had joined the protests. Iran’s mullahs are on a relentless killing spree. And just a few days, leaked documents showed that another young protestor, 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, was sexually assaulted and subsequently murdered by Iran’s [mostly male] security services in October 2022. Authorities had previously claimed that Nika took her own life. This regime’s brutality knows no bounds.

It’s impossible to listen to Toomaj’s music, read his lyrics, and not be deeply touched by his message. For the last 45 years, Iran has been in the suffocating grip of a regime that cares little about ordinary Iranians and their concerns, their hopes and aspirations. A beautiful country of 88 million people is being held hostage by murderous, corrupt, and incompetent mullahs focused entirely on self-preservation. Iranians deserve so much better.

For more information about the situation in Iran, head over to these organisations: