Tuesday , January 31 2023
Days before his arrest, Toomaj Salehi acknowledged he had made himself "a target for the regime forces"

Toomaj Salehi: Dissident Iranian rapper charged with “corruption on Earth”, could face death penalty

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A dissident rapper who backed the anti-government protests in Iran has been charged with “corruption on Earth” and could face the death penalty.

 

Toomaj Salehi, 31, was also accused of spreading propaganda, co-operating with a hostile government and incitement to violence, a judiciary official said.

The official denied a report by a human rights group that his trial had already begun without a lawyer of his choice.

Mr. Salehi was arrested last month after he posted videos of himself protesting.

He also released clips of raps in support of the unrest, which was sparked by the death in police custody 10 weeks ago of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict hijab rules.

Iranian authorities have cracked down violently on the protests, which they have portrayed as “riots” instigated by foreign enemies.

At least 451 protesters have been killed and 18,170 others detained, according to the Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA). It has also reported the deaths of 60 security personnel.

In an interview with CBC News filmed only a few days before his arrest on 30 October, Mr Salehi said posting videos critical of the establishment was “hard, because you are making yourself a target for the regime forces”.

He also warned that Iranians were living “somewhere horrific” and “dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation… in order to keep its power, money and weapons”.

At the start of November, Iranian state media published a video apparently showing Mr Salehi being detained in the central province of Isfahan.

In the footage, a man who identifies himself as Salehi is seen blindfolded and sitting on the ground. In a shaking voice, he says he “made a mistake” by telling security forces to run away in one of his videos filmed at a protest.

Freedom of expression advocacy group Article 19 condemned what it said were “forced confessions of rapper Toomaj Salehi under clear duress”.

On Sunday, the head of the judiciary in Isfahan confirmed that Mr Salehi had been indicted on the charge of “corruption on Earth”, the semi-official Isna news agency reported, adding that he was accused of the “publication of lies on a large scale, in a way that has caused major damages”.

Mr. Saleh’s cousin, Azadeh Babadi, who is based in London, told CBC he feared that evidence would be fabricated to ensure he was convicted.

Fellow music stars and many other Iranians expressed similar concerns on Twitter, prompting the Persian hashtag of his name to trend.

Rapper Hichkas tweeted that the Islamic Republic was “trying to kill Toomaj”, while singer Mehdi Yarrahi wrote: “With baseless charges, they want to teach a lesson to the others who do not fear death.”

The judiciary has announced that six unnamed people arrested in connection with the protests have been sentenced to death after being convicted of the charges of “enmity against God” or “corruption on Earth”. At least 15 other people besides Mr Salehi have been charged with capital offences, including the Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin, according to Amnesty International.

In a separate development on Sunday, Iranian media reported that a number of high-profile figures detained over their involvement in, or support for, the protests had been released on bail.

They included popular actress Hengameh Ghaziani, activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi, former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and reformist former MP Parvaneh Salahshouri.

Ms Ghaziani was arrested earlier this month after she posted a video of herself appearing in public without a hijab.

There was no mention on Sunday of her fellow actress, Katayoun Riahi, who was arrested at the same time after releasing a similar video.

Meanwhile, the niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on people outside Iran to pressure their governments to cut ties with Tehran.

“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Farideh Moradkhani, a well-known activist, said in a video.

The footage was released by Ms Moradkhani’s France-based brother after she was reportedly detained in Tehran last week on unspecified charges.

Iran’s foreign ministry also said it would not co-operate “whatsoever” with the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate alleged abuses during the crackdown.

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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