“One’s crime was to blow her hair in the wind. Someone’s crime was that he or she was bold and outspoken.
These lyrics may cost the life of Iranian rap artist Toomaj Salehi. He can easily talk about the day-to-day problems faced by his countrymen without the consequences of any other country.
But Salehi’s fate is quite different because he lives in Iran.
The 32-year-old underground dissident rapper was violently arrested along with two of his friends last Saturday, his uncle said, and is now charged with crimes punishable by death, Iranian state media said.
About 14,000 people, including journalists, activists, lawyers and educators, have been arrested in Iran during protests that have rocked the country since September, according to a top UN official.
The unrest followed the death of Mahza Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian who died on September 16 after being detained by “morality police” and taken to a “re-education center” for allegedly not wearing a hijab. proper
“I woke up at two in the morning with a phone call from Tumaj’s friend saying, ‘Our location has been leaked,'” Salehi’s uncle Egbal Egbali told CNN in an interview. Since then we have been worried about what happened to Toomaj.
Eghbali says he learned from Salehi’s friends that about 50 people raided his nephew’s house in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari provinces in southwestern Iran.
The rapper is accused of “anti-government propaganda activities, collaboration with hostile governments and forming illegal groups with the aim of creating insecurity in the country,” the Esfahan provincial court cited.
Salehi’s uncle said his nephew is currently being held in a prison in the city of Isfahan and he has information that he has been tortured. Salehi is a resident of Shahin Shahr, about 20 kilometers north of Isfahan.
“We still don’t know anything about Toomaj’s health condition. The family tried hard even to hear his voice, but no one gave us any information about Toomaj,” he said. “We don’t know if Tumaj and his friends are alive or not.”
Salehi’s friends, boxer Mohammad Reza Nikraftar and kickboxer Najaf Abu Ali, who were arrested with him over the weekend, have also not been heard from since, Egbali said.
“The accused played a key role in inciting, inviting and encouraging riots in Isfahan province and Shahin Shahr city,” Isfahan province judiciary spokesman Seyed Mohammad Mousavian said, according to IRNA.
After his arrest, a short video of Salehi appearing to be blindfolded emerged on the state-backed news agency, the Young Journalists’ Club (YJC). Salehi appears to regret his comments on social media.
Salehi’s uncle insisted that the man in the video was not his nephew, and said the government had political motives in releasing the clip. Egbali also denies the government’s claim that his nephew fled at the time of his arrest.
“Of course not,” Eghbali said. “Where Tumaj lived or because we are in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, basically we have no way to reach the border. This is a very distorted statement. No one who knows the geography of Iran would believe such claims.
Since the start of nationwide protests in mid-September, Salehi, who IRNA said will continue into September 2021, has called on Iranians to protest against the government.
“None of us have different colored blood,” Salehi posted on Instagram. “Don’t forget our wonderful unity, and don’t let them create divisions between us in this bloody and miserable heaven.”
Salehi, who is of Bakhtiari ethnic background, has long advocated Iran’s multi-ethnic makeup, encouraging unity among Iranians of different ethnic backgrounds.
“Stand with us, we’ve been with you for years,” Salehi says in his song “Meydoone jang,” which translates to “battlefield.”
“It is not enough to be rebellious, we have revolutionary roots. Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen, Massandari, Sistani, Baluch, Talish, Tatar, Azeri, Kurd, Gilaki, Lor, Farsi and Qashqai, we are the unity of the rivers: we are the sea.
A few days before his arrest, Salehi posted videos of himself with street protesters 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 have come out and supported him,” Arfan Pedar, an Iranian rapper, songwriter and activist, told CNN. “Thumaj’s bravery in protesting in the streets encouraged others to get out there and speak out and made people think, ‘If he’s willing to go out there and he’s not afraid, maybe we shouldn’t be.’
Paydar said Salehi had recently shared a message with his trusted friends that he was to be released if he was arrested. “You are proceeding according to my mission. You are my most trusted person,” the message reads.
“The priority is students and workers, you cover all calls for protests, you don’t support any party or group, don’t write much about prisoners if their situation is getting worse and they don’t have a voice. Focus on attack, not defense.”
Security forces arrested several musicians and artists, including two other rappers involved in the protests – Emad Ghavidel from Rasht and Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin from Kermanshah.
Ghavidel was released on bond and described in an Instagram post how he was tortured and had his teeth knocked out. According to Hengaw, a Kurdish human rights organization in Norway, Yasin suffered severe mental and physical torture during his detention and was accused of a crime punishable by death in a sham trial.
“Tumaj’s mother is a political prisoner,” Salehi’s uncle, who lives in Germany, told CNN. “She died a long time ago… If my sister was still alive, she would have become the voice of Toomaj. I am the voice of Toomaj. Like many people on the street. [in Iran] Toumaj’s voice.”
Protesters across Iran have rallied around a range of grievances with the regime since Mahsa Amini died in custody. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have stepped up efforts to end the insurgency. State news agency IRNA reported last week that around 1,000 people in Tehran province have been accused of joining the protests.
Ali al-Qazi Mehr, chief justice of Tehran province, was quoted by IRNA as saying that the trial of the accused would be heard in public in the coming days.
Iranian media said last weekend that the trial of several demonstrators had begun the previous week.