Toomaj Salehi: Family fears for life of rapper ‘violently arrested’ after encouraging Iranians to protest

Toomaj Salehi: Family fears for life of rapper 'violently arrested' after encouraging Iranians to protest
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“Somebody’s crime was that their hair was blowing in the wind. Someone’s crime was that he or she was brave and outspoken.”

These letters could cost Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi his life. In any other country, he could easily have rapped about the everyday problems faced by his countrymen without consequence.

But how do you live in IranSalehi’s fate is quite different.

The 32-year-old underground dissident rapper was violently arrested last Saturday along with two of his friends, his uncle said, and now faces charges of crimes punishable by death, according to Iranian state media.

Some 14,000 people in Iran have been arrested, including journalists, activists, lawyers and educators, during the protests that have rocked the country since September, according to a senior United Nations official.

The riots were sparked by the death of Mahsa Aminithe 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died on September 16 after being detained by the “morality police” and taken to a “re-education center”, allegedly for not wearing her hijab correctly.

“I woke up at two in the morning to a phone call from Toomaj’s friend saying ‘our whereabouts have been leaked,'” Salehi’s uncle, Eghbal Eghbali, told CNN in an interview. “Ever since then we have been worried about what happened to Toomaj.”

Eghbali says he learned from Salehi’s friends later that morning that some 50 people raided his nephew’s residence in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province in southwestern Iran.

A group of protesters hold an Iranian flag and banners with the portrait of Toomaj Salehi in Paris on November 5, 2022.

The rapper is accused of “anti-government propaganda activity, cooperation with hostile governments and formation of illegal groups with the intention of creating insecurity in the country,” state-run IRNA said, citing the Esfahan province judiciary.

Salehi’s uncle said that his nephew is currently detained in a prison in the city of Isfahan and that he has information that he was tortured. Salehi is a resident of Shahin Shahr, about 20 km north of Isfahan.

“We still don’t know anything about Toomaj’s health status. The family has tried very hard to hear his voice, but no one has given us any information about Toomaj,” he said. “We don’t even know if Toomaj and his friends are alive or not.”

Salehi’s friends who were arrested with him over the weekend, boxing champion Mohammad Reza Nikraftar and kickboxer Najaf Abu Ali, have also not been heard from since, Eghbali said.

“The defendant played a key role in creating, inviting and fomenting riots in Isfahan province and Shahin Shahr city,” Seyyed Mohammad Mousavian, spokesman for the Isfahan province judiciary, said, according to IRNA.

After his arrest, a short video clip of what appears to be Salehi blindfolded appeared on the state-backed news agency, the Young Journalists Club (YJC). Salehi appears to be under pressure to express remorse over comments he made on social media.

Salehi’s uncle insisted that the man in the video was not his nephew, adding that the government had political objectives in publishing the short video. Eghbali also disputes the government’s claim that his nephew was on the run at the time of his arrest.

“Absolutely not,” Eghbali said. “Because where Toomaj lived or where we are in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari provinces, we basically have no way to get to the border. This is a very crazy statement. Anyone who knows the geography of Iran will not believe such a claim.”

Since the start of the nationwide protests that began in mid-September, Salehi, who according to IRNA was also delayed in September 2021, has been calling on Iranians to protest against the government.

“None of us have a different blood color,” Salehi posted on Instagram. “Don’t forget our incredible union and don’t let them create division between us, in this sad and accursed sky.”

Salehi, who is of Bakhtiari ethnicity, has long rapped about the multi-ethnic makeup of Iran, encouraging unity among Iranians of different ethnic backgrounds.

“Stay with us, we support you for years,” Salehi raps in his song “Meydoone jang,” which translates to “The Battlefield.”

“It is not enough to be a rebel, we have revolutionary roots. Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, Mazandari, Sistani, Baluch, Talysh, Tatars, Azeris, Kurds, Gilaki, Lor, Farsi and Qashqai, we are the unity of the rivers: we are the sea”.

Iranian rap artist Toomaj Salehi was arrested last Saturday along with two of his friends.

Days before his arrest, Salehi posted videos of himself with protesters on the street on Instagram. Since then, his fans, Iranians in the diaspora, as well as musicians and activists, have called for his release.

“A lot of rappers came out and supported him,” Iranian rapper, songwriter and activist Erfan Paydar told CNN. “Toomaj’s courage to protest in the streets encouraged others to come out and speak out and made people think ‘if he’s willing to come out and he’s not afraid, then maybe we shouldn’t be.'”

Paydar said that Salehi recently shared a message with his trusted friends that would be published in the event he was arrested. “You will go forward according to my operation. You are my most trusted person, ”says the message.

“The priority is with the students and workers, you will cover all the calls for protests, you will not support any party or group, you will not write much about the prisoners unless their condition worsens and they have no voice. Focus on attack, not defense.”

Security forces arrested a number of musicians and artists, including two other rappers who participated in the protests: Emad Ghavidel from Rasht and Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin from Kermanshah.

Ghavidel was released on bail and described in an Instagram post how he was tortured and had his teeth knocked out. Yasin was subjected to severe mental and physical torture during his time in custody, according to the Norway-based Kurdish human rights group Hengaw, and charged with a crime that can carry a death sentence in a sham trial.

“Toomaj’s mother was a political prisoner,” Salehi’s uncle who lives in Germany told CNN. “She passed away a long time ago…if my sister was still alive, she would become the voice of Toomaj. Just as I am the voice of Toomaj. The same as many who are in the streets [in Iran] are the voice of Toomaj.”

Since Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, protesters in iran they have united around a series of grievances with the regime. Meanwhile, the Iranian authorities have been stepping up efforts to end the uprising. Around 1,000 people have been charged in Tehran province for their alleged involvement in the protests, state news agency IRNA reported last week.

The trials of the accused will be heard in public in the coming days, IRNA said, citing Ali Al-Qasi Mehr, chief justice of Tehran province.

Iranian media said last weekend that the trials of several protesters had started the week before.

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