Urgent Appeal filed with United Nations for Iranian rapper sentenced to death for his music

Toomaj Salehi

(Pictured: Toomaj Salehi)

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 23rd 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 practicing art.

The appeal window within Iran is very short: 20 days from 23rd 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[1] 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.

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