Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi sentenced to death in Iran

A popular rapper has been sentenced to death for supporting anti-government protests, his lawyer has said.

Toomaj Salehi, 33, was arrested in Iran in October 2022 after publicly backing a wave of demonstrations triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

The Iranian Kurdish woman had been detained by the morality police in Tehran over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress rules for women.

“Branch 1 of Isfahan Revolutionary Court … sentenced Salehi to death on the charge of corruption on Earth,” the singer’s lawyer Amir Raisian said, quoted by the reformist Shargh newspaper.

The Revolutionary Court had accused Mr Salehi of “assistance in sedition, assembly and collusion, propaganda against the system and calling for riots,” Mr Raisian said.

Mr Salehi was freed on bail on November 18, Mr Raisian said at the time, adding the Supreme Court had found “flaws in the initial sentence” of six years in prison.

The rapper was rearrested less than two weeks later.
Mr Raisian said the court “in an unprecedented move, emphasised its independence and did not implement the Supreme Court’s ruling”, adding that “we will certainly appeal against the sentence”.

“The Supreme Court, as an appellate authority, had reviewed the case and issued a ruling to the lower court to remove the flaws in the sentence,” he said.

“The fact is that the verdict of the court has clear legal conflicts. The contradiction with the ruling of the Supreme Court is considered the most important and at the same time the strangest part of this ruling.”

Since Mr Salehi’s arrest, demonstrators have gathered around the world to protest for the rapper’s release.

Hijab patrols

The initial accusations against Mr Salehi included spreading “lies on the internet” and “propaganda against the state” as well as inciting people to violence and “having formed and managed illegal groups with the aim of disrupting security in cooperation with a government hostile” to Iran.

Another singer, Mehdi Yarrahi, who supported the protest movement and criticised the mandatory dress rules for women was sentenced to a total of two years and eight months in prison.

Mr Yarrahi described Mr Salehi’s sentence as a “black comedy” in a post on X.

“Release my brother unconditionally,” he wrote on Thursday.

Months of unrest following Ms Amini’s death on September 16, 2022 saw hundreds of people killed including dozens of security personnel, and thousands more arrested.

Iranian officials labelled the protests “riots” and accused Tehran’s foreign foes of fomenting the unrest.

Nine men have been executed in protest-related cases involving killings and other violence against security forces.

After Ms Amini’s death, a growing number of women began appearing in public across the country without adhering to the dress code and the morality police had kept a low profile.

However, since April 13, Iran’s police have started to toughen controls on women who ignore the rules by deploying patrol vans on main Tehran squares, according to local media.

The media reported that police in the capital had launched a campaign codenamed “Noor”, the Persian word for light, in their efforts to double down on those who break the dress code, known as hijab, which makes it mandatory for women to cover their hair and bodies in public places.

In an effort to tackle those breaking hijab laws, the authorities have also shut cafes and restaurants where the wearing of the hijab was not respected.

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