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Iranian rapper Toomaj sentenced to death over protest support

Toomaj Salehi is the latest musical artist to be sentenced in relation to the 2022 anti-government protests in Iran.
Image of Toomaj Salehi.

An Iranian rapper who supported the 2022 protests has been sentenced to death, a reformist news outlet reported on Wednesday.

The Isfahan revolutionary court sentenced Toomaj Salehi to death on the charge of “corruption on earth,” his lawyer, Amir Raisian, told Shargh. Raisian called the court’s decision “unprecedented,” adding that he plans to appeal.

The Shargh report was widely cited by Iranian and international media.

Iranian judicial authorities did not immediately comment.

The Iranian legal system's corruption on earth charge has been criticized as vague by rights watchdogs, including Amnesty International.

Who is Salehi? Salehi is a popular Iranian rapper. He has a large social media following, with more than 720,000 followers on X. Several of his music videos on YouTube have received hundreds of thousands of views. For years, Salehi has used his music to voice criticism of the government, specifically with regard to corruption, poverty and state repression.

Salehi voiced support for the Mahsa Amini protests that began in Iran in September 2022. In the fiery anthem “Battlefield,” released the following month, he called on Iranians to “remove the opportunists” from power.

“It is the time of people’s anger and rebellion. It’s time to remove the opportunists,” he rapped in the song’s music video in between images of security forces clashing with protesters.

Salehi praised the protesters in the song, calling the demonstrations a “revolution.”

“We are the voice of the anger of people whose voice was silenced,” he went on to say. “Don’t call us rebels. We came for revolution.”

Salehi was arrested in October 2022 in relation to his support of the protests. In July of last year, he was sentenced to six years in prison on multiple charges, including corruption on earth. Salehi was then released on bail in November after the supreme court found flaws in the case against him, but he was arrested again later the same month, according to reports.

The news of the death sentence was widely criticized by Iranians on social media.

Salehi’s legal troubles are not new. He was arrested in 2021 as well but was released shortly thereafter amid a popular outcry, US-funded Radio Free Europe reported at the time.

Why it matters: The protests and civil unrest in Iran began after Amini, a young Kurdish woman, died in police custody following her arrest for "improperly" wearing the mandatory hijab. The protests spread throughout the country under the Kurdish-language slogan of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,” meaning “woman, life, freedom.”

The Iranian government cracked down violently on the protests. More than 550 protesters had been killed as of September 2023, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization. The protests largely died out last year amid the repression.

Salehi is not the only artist to be prosecuted for his support of the protests. Iranian pop star Shervin Hajipour said last month that he was sentenced to three years in prison on the grounds of inciting riots. Hajipour is known for his Grammy Award–winning song “Baraye,” which addressed the protests.