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Campaign
Update
February 12, 2024

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,
But,look out!
…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!

(For more about Toomaj, his music and his case, see the #Free Toomaj page on the IEC website, and listen to his videos on the IEC’s Toomaj playliist) 

_______________

FOOTNOTES:

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.

November 25, 2023: Toomaj, flanked by world-renowned Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof (left) and Jafar Panahi (right).                                                        Photo: IG @Jafar.Panahi
Campaign
Update
February 5, 2024

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.

Clockwise from top left: Mohsen Mazloum, Mohammad (Hajir) Faramarzi, Pejman Fatehi, Vafa Azarbar. Photo: Social media

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.”

Footnotes

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.

4Iran Executes At Least 28 People In Ten Days As Executions Continue”, Iranintl.com, February 1, 2024.

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December 18, 2022
Update

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October 10, 2022
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Iran Uprising Enters 4th Week:

June 1, 2022
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December 2, 2021
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October 3, 2021
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Now Available Online – Watch

September 22, 2021
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September 17, 2021
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May 20, 2021
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Letter to Signatories

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