A Night of Cultural Revolt to Free Toomaj Salehi & All Iran’s Political Prisoners
If you are around the San Francisco Bay Area, make your way to Berkeley’s iconic Starry Plough Pub, Saturday, February 24, 6-9 pm. Poetry reading and song will be followed by an invitation to dance in the spirit of people in Iran who are dancing in the streets as a form of mass protest.
Iran’s Political Prisoners Are Revolting
There is no better example of this than the case of rap artist, 33-year-old Toomaj Salehi. As with so many other political prisoners in Iran, the attack on this people’s artist by Iran’s reactionary regime is sickeningly revolting. Three times since September 2021, he has been arrested, insanely brutalized, tortured, and threatened with the death penalty after sham charges and trials, all because of his revolutionary music and poetic lyrics. Yet Toomaj has not stopped revolting against oppression and repression.
A joint statement demanding Toomaj’s release was issued January 31, 2024 on X, signed by Freemuse, the International Federation of Musicians, the European Composers & Songwriters Alliance, and Safemuse. It said, “We the undersigned civil society organizations condemn the re-arrest of the Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi in Babol, 30 November, 2023.” They noted that it was on November 18, 2023 that Toomaj had been released on bail after 386 days in jail, 252 days of them in solitary confinement. Only 12 days later, he was viciously assaulted by the authorities and returned to prison. They suggested that Toomaj’s re-arrest was likely related to his video uploaded four days earlier detailing his prison torture and thanking his millions of fans on multiple social media accounts by his supporters.
As of this writing, he has been unjustly imprisoned for over 460 days. We will post updates on the status of his legal case before March 26, the date of his next scheduled court hearing (and possible sentencing).1
Toomaj had said defiantly, “I don’t deserve to be in prison even for one day.” His first arrest followed the release of his rap video “Rat Hole” (July 2021) which is filled with searing lyrics aimed at Iran’s ruling class and their many (willing or unwilling) accomplices—telling them to go “buy a rat hole” (and crawl into it)! It is a challenge to people anywhere in the world today who fits the description:
If you see people’s pain & suffering but close your eyes,
If you see someone’s oppression but just walked on by,
You’re the oppressor’s accomplice and also a criminal…
If you pretend to be asleep when bloodshed’s taking place,
If you’re busy with your business when they’re taking youths’ lives,
If you stay in the middle and ask “what me political?” …
Wise up! In this battle there is no neutral…
If you used your hands to cover up your eyes, your hands will be bloody….
What kind of artist are you…I piss on your Oscar
If you’re not with the people, it is worthless…
Is freedom costly? It’s OK, freedom fighters will die for it.
from “Rat Hole,” July 2021
His songs are also full of biting sarcasm. In one of his many songs foreshadowing the state murder of Mahsa Jina Amini, Toomaj captured the spirit that came to characterize the Woman, Life, Freedom uprising—which he took part in, protesting in the streets against compulsory hijab:
Yes! Yes Sir! Life is normal here. A laborer’s yearly wage is worth one dinner abroad. Yes! Of course, Sir! Life is normal here. We don’t dare say otherwise, or else we’ll get in trouble. Yes! Yes Sir! Life is normal here. Some sleep in tombs, others own high-rises. Yes! Of course, Sir! Life is normal here, We dare not ask for what is ours, lest asking be a crime….In the era of science/progress, women are beaten for their beauty, thrown into police vans and taken to unnamed prisons…
from “Normal,” June 2021
The Islamic Republic of Iran brutally exploits and oppresses Afghan migrants, including child laborers, and has unleashed xenophobic violence aimed at these impoverished people. In “Unite” (August 2021), Toomaj calls for the oppressed who are pitted against each other in that region to rise up together against the theocrats of the Taliban and the Islamic Republic:
My Afghan brother, stand up against tyranny…The lament of oppressed Afghans is so loud, I can hear it in Iran…Unite oh Afghanistan, Unite oh brother of Iran…Unite, oh brave people, don’t live in humiliation. Die free.
Toomaj is a people’s artist beloved by millions in Iran and beyond—because he stands up for and with the people. He has taken an art form that he is said to have described as a “voice from the bottom of society,” and made it his own, carrying forward its spirit of “fight the power.” He sings to us in Farsi but his fiery lyrical poetry and raw emotions transcend the borders of geography and language. The resistance against oppression and hope for a better world comes through a pulsing beat that is the joy of rap music… He is hated by filthy mullahs ruling Iran for good reason. He serenades the fight against the vile oppression of women, concentrated in the battle over the forced hijab that is a cornerstone of Iran’s theocratic capitalist regime as in his song (with exiled rapper Justina).
We're women and men joining together with this warning,
Your Morality Police are getting left in our dust
Send out your henchmen,
…thousands upon thousands with their heads uncovered are on the streets,
In the city of Shiraz, an anonymous person is passing out flyers,
Now, free hair is dancing — playing with the wind.
….Free hair is shinning, the era of slavery is over.
We’ll sacrifice, yes, but we won't pay ransom, we'll burn, but we'll turn into stars.
No law, no religious verse, we're seeing freedom on the horizon.”
from “Shallagh” (The Whip), July, 2022
Iran’s Political Prisoners Are Heroically Revolting and Must Be Supported and Freed
Toomaj concentrates the selfless and fearless spirit of the political prisoners such as those (including Toomaj) who are now on weekly hunger strikes to demand an end to a surge in executions, including the courageous women in Tehran’s Evin Prison. On January 29, four Iranian Kurdish political prisoners were executed on trumped-up charges and denied a proper trial and legal representation. According to Human Rights activists, at least 746 people were executed in Iran in 2023. And many more are facing execution. Amnesty International noted in its July 2022 report, “…Iran’s Islamic Penal Code provides for various corporal punishments amounting to torture, including amputation flogging, blinding, and crucifixion and stoning.”
The IEC will continue to stand with the prisoners—women and men—their families, Toomaj, and thousands who are speaking out and condemning these atrocities in the face of grave danger to themselves. Like so many other political prisoners in Iran such as Narges Mohammadi, Toomaj is refusing to give in and give up. This should inspire and challenge us all to have their back.
The cultural night in Berkeley is a special opportunity to make our stand bold and poetic. Send messages of solidarity to the IEC and let’s make this night reverberate around the world so that it echoes inside Iran’s prison walls! We heard that supporters of Iran’s political prisoners in Colombia have plans to hold events that same weekend in conjunction. Stay tuned.
We condemn the US imperialists’ increasing war threats against Iran and attacking forces in Iran’s orbit of influence on the Middle East. But this does not make the nature of the Islamic Republic a liberatory or rational society as we can see in its brutal and cruel treatment of a artist like Toomaj and other political prisoners such as its execution of protesters from the righteous Women, Life, Freedom uprising of 2022. We demand of the Islamic Republic of Iran: FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW! We say to the U.S government: NO THREATS OR WAR MOVES AGAINST IRAN, LIFT U.S. SANCTIONS!
1. Toomaj’s attorney Amir Raisian has said that the charges in the upcoming hearing include "armed and group rebellion against the regime" and "conspiracy to commit security-related offenses,” and that “armed rebellion against the regime” could carry the death penalty. He also said that there was no evidence supporting the charges.
Resistance Widens and Deepens as Iran’s Theocrats Execute More Political Prisoners
On January 25, as we reported, the entire women’s ward of Evin Prison in Tehran went on a one-day hunger strike in response to the execution of two political prisoners. This was a spark which inspired many others in and outside of Iran’s prison and worldwide to join the symbolic strike.
About the same time, some men on death row in Ghezel Hesar Prison1 announced they will be going on hunger strike every Tuesday for an end to the death penalty — not just in their own cases but for both political and non-political cases.2 In a widening dynamic, the Evin women’s ward announced that they will join the Ghezel Hesar hunger strikes every Tuesday.
Then on January 29 in Ghezel Hesar Prison, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) hanged four young ethnic Kurdish political prisoners. The vengeful regime refused to release their bodies to their families for mourning and burial, forbade local mosques to hold ceremonies, and interred them secretly “in an undisclosed location.” The IRI claims the men, accused of being members of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, had plotted to attack a military installation in mid-2022 in collaboration with Israel. They were forcibly disappeared for 19 months and tortured in solitary confinement, then sentenced in a grossly unfair trial without legal representation.
When news of the execution broke, outrage was widespread in the Kurdistan region. Strikes shut down many stores and bazaars in 15 cities in Kurdistan. The families of the men defiantly held mourning wakes even without the bodies, and hundreds of supporters joined them. Some political prisoners in Ghezel Hesar Prison chanted slogans against the regime and were attacked by dozens of anti-riot guards who injured five of them, among them an elderly prisoner who was knocked unconscious and hospitalized, and rebel rapper Saman Yasin, who was denied treatment.
Iranian diaspora organizations announced plans for protests in many countries.
Video: “No to execution means human life is valuable!” A collective statement by several organizations, including Osyan @maosyangarim, Youth in Exile @bahamad_fa/@bahamad_en, BurnTheCage @burnthecage, Afghanistan Women's Studies Academy @awsaacademy1, Baloch Women's Movement @balochwomenmovementt, Bread and Roses (Turkey), and others.
Iranian queer formations called on Iranians all over the world and LGBTQ+ activists to lead actions against the death penalty, noting that IRI’s laws call for the execution of queer people and for extramarital sexual relations.
As we write, the town of Semirom in Iran’s central Isfahan province is carrying on a general strike against the imminent execution of two brothers charged with the death of a paramilitary (Basiji) during a protest in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” (Jina) uprising. Fazel and Mehran Bahramian were convicted after torture and sham trials. A third brother was murdered by police during the uprising.
Iran’s regime is continuing to press ahead with the surge of executions in 2023, killing 70 in January 2024 aloneThe ratcheting up of U.S. imperialist threats against Iran and its attacks on Iranian-related forces in the Middle East possibly presents the theocratic regime with new necessity and opportunity to clamp down on its home front to stabilize its legitimacy and rule.
An analysis of the potential for a wider war in the Middle East is beyond the scope of this article and the IEC’s efforts. However, we want to continue to emphasize the stance from our Emergency Appeal of freeing Iran’s political prisoners that is in the interest of humanity: The governments of the U.S. and Iran act from their national interests. And, in this instance, we the people of the U.S. and Iran, along with the people of the world, have OUR shared interests, as part of getting to a better world: to unite to defend the political prisoners of Iran. In the U.S., we have a special responsibility to unite very broadly against this vile repression by the IRI, and to actively oppose any war moves by the U.S. government that would bring even more unbearable suffering to the people of Iran. We demand of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Free all Political Prisoners NOW! We say to the U.S. government: No Threats or War Moves Against Iran, Lift U.S. Sanctions!
Support the Brave Resistance of Iran’s Political Dissidents
“We urge you to champion the cause of all death row prisoners, irrespective of their charges, as we have all endured unfair trials. The authorities seek to rob us of our right to life. With your support, perhaps these executions can be halted. Be our voice, and the voice of our families, in any way possible. Death row prisoners extend beyond Ghezel Hesar to others throughout the country seeking your support…” This excerpt of the prisoners’ calls to all justice loving people everywhere to join in the fight for their lives and for the lives of all of Iran’s political prisoners. Their determined spirit to resist oppression and repression needs to spread much further than it is now. The statement signed by 11 groups in Europe should be broadly circulated and endorsed on every continent. As our Emergency Appeal made clear: “Lives are in the Balance, We Must Act Now.”
1 Ghezel (Qezel) Hesar is the largest state prison in Iran, located in Karaj, about 12 miles from the capital Tehran.
2 Excerpt of statement published on January 28, 2024:
We, a collective of prisoners facing death sentences, implore your assistance. Some of us are innocent, while others have erred due to misfortune and hardships. Regardless, we have all been denied a fair trial and legal representation. Though we regret our actions, committed during miserable periods in our lives, we do not deserve death, and we were not born as criminals… Starting this week, we will embark on a hunger strike every Tuesday, as it is often the last day our cellmates are alive before being transferred for execution…. On behalf of a group of death-row prisoners in Qezel Hesar Prison (our names withheld to avoid expedited execution).
3 Burn The Cage Instagram, January 31, 2024.
4 “Iran Executes At Least 28 People In Ten Days As Executions Continue”, Iranintl.com, February 1, 2024.
Updates from the Campaign
A Night of Cultural Revolt to Free Toomaj Salehi & All Iran’s Political Prisoners
Resistance Widens and Deepens as Iran’s Theocrats Execute More Political Prisoners
Women Political Prisoners Spur New Burst of Resistance to Executions in Iran
Razor-Sharp Two-Sided Battle: Clashes Persist Over Compulsory Hijab in Iran
WOMEN PRISONERS PUT REGIME’S JUDGES & PROSECUTORS ON TRIAL INSIDE EVIN PRISON
Toomaj Salehi Rearrested for “Disturbing Public Opinion”!
Inspiring and Challenging Screening of Documentary White Torture
Outrage and Repression Surround Death of Armita Geravand
Rebel Rapper Toomaj Salehi Is the Voice of Iran’s Political Prisoners
Sights and Sounds of Jina Anniversary Actions Worldwide
Iran’s Theocrats Stiffen Hijab Laws Ahead of Mahsa Amini Uprising Anniversary
Global Outcry Needed: No Bans! No Jail Time! No Executions!
INTERNATIONALIST VIGIL TO FREE IRAN’S POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW!
Ariel Dorfman Joins Global Outcry for Medical Release of Nahid Taghavi
Life of Iranian Political Prisoner Nahid Taghavi In Immediate Danger
“Executions Will Only Strengthen the People's Will to Resist”
RAGE AND GRIEF CONFRONT NEW EXECUTIONS BY IRAN’S THEOCRATIC REGIME
“Turn your tears to rage... Pound the palace of the oppressors!”
New Wave of Accelerated Executions in Iran
Global Grassroots Groundswell Urgently Needed: Free Rebel Rapper Toomaj Salehi!
Free Sepideh Gholian and all Iranian Political Prisoners! Press Release
Check It Out: COUP 53—Old Secrets Cast Long Shadows
IEC Solidarity Statement for IWD March 8, 2023
Executions, Extrajudicial Killings and Beatings Target Iran’s Oppressed Regions
Recently Released Prisoners Call for Freedom for All Political Prisoners
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Iran: False and Bullying “Pardon” While Repression Continues
“DO NOT BE AFRAID OF JAIL. BE AFRAID OF LIVING AND BEING INDIFFERENT"
Executions of Protesters in Iran: A key front of struggle
Week 13 of Iran Uprising:
Don’t let Iran’s theocrats take fearless rapper Toomaj Salehi from us
Iran’s Rabid Theocracy Threatens Execution of Arrested Protesters!
Free Toomaj Salehi - Iranian Rebel Rapper
Attack on Elite University; Voices and Videos; International Solidarity
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Join Protest Against Iran President Raisi at UN on September 21
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Save the Date: June 10
Author Ariel Dorfman Urges Iran Halt Execution of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali
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Statement by Satar Rahmani, Spokesperson for Mehran Raoof
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori Are Free!
URGENT! Sepideh Gholian Must Be Freed on Medical Release NOW!
DAY 45: Heroic #HungerStrike4Life in Iran’s Prisons: Free Them All Now!
German Appeal to Free Iran's Political Prisoners Now Circulating
Support Hunger Striking Political Prisoners - Free All Political Prisoners Now!
Eyes of World on Iran as JPCOA Talks Resume
Iranian Human Rights Activist Narges Mohammadi Again Jailed – Facing 30 Months, 80 Lashes
Richard Ratcliffe's 21-day Hunger Strike to #FreeNazanin Draws Global Attention
As Glasgow Unfolds, Iranian Environmentalists Near Fourth Year of Unjust, Brutal Imprisonment
New Charges Filed Against Courageous Journalist Sepideh Gholian
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Now Available Online – Watch
Call for Urgent Action from Amnesty Coordinator
Islamic Republic Refusing Urgent Medical Furlough for Political Prisoner Nahid Taghavi Despite Surgeon's Order
UN Press Conference Photos and Video
Heroism for Our Times
"Free Iran's Political Prisoners" Press Conference & Speakout
September - Join Us to Demand Free Iran's Political Prisoners Now
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Free Iran’s Political Prisoners AND Their Heroic Lawyers
Arrests and Disappearance of Lawyers of Political Prisoners
Dual Nationals Nahid Taghavi, Mehran Raouf Sentenced to nearly 11 years in Iranian Prison
Mariam Claren: Nahid and Other Political Prisoners Sentenced
Demand Immediate Release of Nahid Taghavi for COVID Treatment – Freedom for Iran’s Political Prisoners
Mariam Claren: Funds needed by July 16 – every penny counts
Ariel Dorfman: We should not let the prisoners down
Move Heaven and Earth to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners
June 13: Iranian Political Prisoners Face Sham Trial
#FreeThemAll Press Conference/Speak Out
Letter to Signatories
Political Prisoners Still Facing Trial, Dire Conditions
The Islamic Republic of Iran Assaults Intellectuals and Artists
Iranian Political Prisoners Face Trials April 28 – Arbitrarily Detained, Denied Legal Rights
Trial of Nahid Taghavi to Begin April 28, 2021
Iranian Poet & Political Prisoner Baktash Abtin’s Life Hangs by a Thread
U.S.-Iran Talks Begin–Iran Political Prisoners Lives Hang in Balance