July 18, 2023

Global Outcry Needed: No Bans! No Jail Time! No Executions!

July 18, 2023

Rebel rapper Toomaj Salehi received an outrageous sentence from Iran’s Islamic court in early July, after enduring 252 days of solidarity confinement, torture, interrogations, and two closed door “trials.” In addition to 6 years, 3 months in prison, his passport has been revoked and he’s banned from leaving Iran or doing any music-related activities for 2 years, and he’s required to attend “behavior management” courses held by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) Prosecutors Office. Toomaj has been transferred to the general population in Isfahan Central Prison.

Rebel rapper Toomaj Salehi received an outrageous sentence from Iran’s Islamic court in early July, after enduring 252 days of solidarity confinement, torture, interrogations, and two closed door “trials.” In addition to 6 years, 3 months in prison, his passport has been revoked and he’s banned from leaving Iran or doing any music-related activities for 2 years, and he’s required to attend “behavior management” courses held by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) Prosecutors Office. Toomaj has been transferred to the general population in Isfahan Central Prison.

In a statement condemning the illegitimacy of the court proceedings, his lawyer Amir Raesian stated, “We were given a total of half an hour to meet the client at the Isfahan Intelligence Detention Center, and the volume of accusations was more than we could even explain to the client in this half hour…  Although Mr. Toomaj Salehi has been held in Isfahan's special intelligence prison for nearly eight months, he was in control of himself mentally and physically due to his personality traits, and he gave detailed and clear explanations in court.”

The unlawful ban on Toomaj’s music is especially onerous, but it does reveal the regime’s real fear of the impact artists like Toomaj have, which is why he was imprisoned and brutalized. Millions inside Iran love him for being a precious artist who not only spits out oppression-defiant songs, but also took his music into the fiery, festive streets of the uprising triggered by the September 16, 2022 murder of Mahsa “Jina” Amini by Iran’s hated morality police. Toomaj is not a musician out for personal fame, gain or the bling-bling. He has put it all on the line to give voice to the joy and rage of resisting oppression and for “women, life, freedom,” for example in his song “Battlefield,” released shortly before his arrest.

Worldwide Protests Against Sentence Handed to Toomaj

On July 11, PEN America, an internationally prominent organization that defends writers and artists, strongly denounced Iran’s Islamic court’s sentence of more than six years. PEN’s statement said in part:

….Although the sentencing has moved him out of solitary confinement, we remain gravely concerned about his safety and well-being. We demand his immediate release and for all charges to be dropped against him.

In the weekend before his sentencing, the call to free Toomaj and all political prisoners rang out worldwide, including many protests in Europe and inside Iran. In the Iranian city of Zahedan near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, people demanded Toomaj’s freedom at their 40th straight week of Friday protests.

Many at the July 7 march in the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province (where the ethnically oppressed and extremely impoverished Baluch people live) carried signs and chanted for the release of Toomaj Salehi, Abbas Deris, and all political prisoners. This sign reads: "Death with dignity is better than life with humiliation. Toomaj Salehi must be freed!"  Photo: Twitter, @iranlivenews

In Europe, performance art in the Netherlands stood out, where people wore Toomaj masks by Tales of a Revolution.

Many ruling class operatives also issued statements calling for the release of Toomaj, including U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel who said (April 2023):

We call on Iran’s leadership to release Toomaj now, release all political prisoners now, and provide Mr. Salehi with the needed medical attention. Iran’s harsh treatment of political prisoners is meant to intimidate people and suppress dissent, and it simply underscores just how much Iran’s leadership fears its own people, particularly young people like Toomaj.

If we read this same statement, but substitute the names of political prisoners in the U.S. such as Mumia Abu-Jamal or Leonard Peltier for the name “Toomaj,” it clarifies the hypocrisy of the U.S. government as it fishes in the troubled waters surrounding Iran’s regime. To the imperialists, “Human rights abuses” only count if committed by their rivals. Take an honest look at the history and nature of these regimes—be it the European imperialists in France, Greece, Germany, or the imperialists of the U.S. or Russia, China, or even the so-called “left” governments of Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba—who gave Iran’s butcher president (Ebrahim Raisi) a warm reception this June, as did Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya in July.

Sepideh Gholian: Sentenced to an Additional Two Years!

On the heels of the unjust sentencing of Toomaj, another courageous and beloved political prisoner, Sepideh Gholian, was sentenced to 2 additional years in prison, by Iran’s misogynistic mullahs, plus a 2-year ban from membership in any social-political group, from using a smartphone, and from living in or near the capital city of Tehran. All this was to Sepideh for her 10-second protest statement in March 2023.

As the IEC reported at the time, “Sepideh Gholian stepped out of Evin Prison after 4 years and 7 months of imprisonment for supporting striking sugarcane workers, and began shouting, ‘Khamenei, we will bury you!’ Just hours later her car caravan was stopped by a large number of police along the highway on her way home, and she was forcibly kidnapped and returned to Evin.” Her fearless actions and messages circulated around the world on mainstream and social media, helping to delegitimize the reactionary IRI’s rule and strengthen the resolve of protesters and prisoners.

Arab-Minority Protester & Witness to 2019 Massacre Is Sentenced to Death

Recently an appeals court confirmed the death sentence of Abbas Deris (or Daris, Shalishat), an Arab-minority political prisoner, in an exposure of how the IRI’s bloodthirsty repression, is especially vicious against Iran’s oppressed nationalities.

During the mass uprising in Iran of November 2019, Abbas Deris joined protests which blocked traffic to oil fields in the city of Mahshahr in the oil-rich, majority-Arab Khuzestan province. Security forces attacked the mostly unarmed protesters with automatic weapons and tank artillery, forcing them to flee into a field of marsh reeds. Then the regime’s forces set the field on fire—murdering between 60 and 150 people. To cover up this horror, the regime arrested Abbas Deris, who is reported to be the only known witness to have survived their massacre. He was then tortured into confessing to shooting a policeman, which he denied in court.

Abbas’ 16-year-old son wrote two letters and created a video, which are being shared in Farsi on social media and has been translated to English by an IEC volunteer:

Kind people of the world, I am Ali Deris, the eldest son of Abbas and responsible to take care of the family after my dad. Unfortunately, my mother had a stroke after hearing the news of my father being sentenced to death and she died. Now my father is in danger of being executed, and me and my brothers—Mehdi who is 12 years old and Mohammad who is 8—are asking if this world is so cruel as to watch us lose our father as well. We three children ask all organizations, governments, and kind people of the world, and even children in the world, to help to put a stop to my father's execution. This is terrifying, help my father return home….

Bringing Forward Another Way

All this must be put in the context of what the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) points out on the need for the masses of people to rise up against this repression on the correct basis. In opposing the Islamic fundamentalists, it is crucial to be clear about who are friends and who are enemies. Our friends are the people of the world, and to win this struggle, we need to firmly rely on them. Relying on reactionary governments or institutions—the big imperialist oppressors of the East or West, or their United Nations—is harmful to the fundamental interests of people fighting for a better world, including the interests of Iran’s political prisoners.

Speaking of the UN—around the same time as it launched a Fact Finding Mission about Iran’s vicious repression of protesters during the “Jina uprising,” it objectively legitimized the murderous Islamic regime, repeatedly handing it UN posts and platforms. (The following examples are from press releases of UN Watch, a pro-West NGO based in Geneva that monitors the UN):

  • In May, the IRI was appointed to chair the UN Human Rights Council’s 2023 Social Forum Council.
  • n June, Iran was elected to the UN Committee on Disarmament and International Security.
  • For 2 weeks in late June, the Islamic Republic “held an exhibition right below the UN Human Rights Council of ‘Iranian contemporary women’s fashion design.’” UN Watch director Hillel Neuer pointed out the absolute irony: “These are the same people who beat women to death for not wearing the compulsory hijab, poison schoolgirls, and beat, blind, rape, torture and kill women who protest.”
  • “In April 20, 2021, the United Nations Economic and Social Council elected Iran to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the 2022-2026 term. Almost a year later, on March 25, 2022, Iran began its 4-year term on this top women’s rights body. UN Watch was the first to expose “the absurd election of one of the world’s worst abusers of women’s rights to the very body which is tasked with “promoting women’s rights […] and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

The UN was finally forced to remove Iran from this position, because of a mass protest campaign. But why was this necessary in the first place? Don’t UN officials have the staff—or even a Google app—to tell them Iran has been one of the most misogynist regimes on the planet for over four decades—long before protests from this campaign took place?

Its entire history should serve as a reminder that the UN is part of the problem, not part of the solution. As the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian pointed out in his interview “Human Rights in the Labor Chain”:

The “international community” as represented by the United Nations, is not in reality a community but rather another expression of an imperialist dominated world, a world divided into exploiters and exploited, oppressor and oppressed nations, and contending imperialist rivals. The UN is not a supra-national body but an institution reflecting (and perpetuating) these divisions and conflicts. In today’s world, the legal systems in individual countries, and on a global scale, rest on and reinforce definite exploitative economic and oppressive social relations. The fact is that social justice cannot be achieved within the confines of the existing legal systems that serve capitalism-imperialism and other reactionary systems of rule.

Sept. 16: All Eyes on the One-Year Anniversary of Jina Uprising

The context for the unjust sentences issued to high profile political prisoners and the real threats to their lives is the upcoming anniversary of Mahsa “Jina” Amini’s death at the hands of the “morality police” and the outbreak of the September 2022 “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising. Many different political forces inside and outside Iran, including Iran’s theocratic rulers, are making plans for possible mass protests.

The regime’s brutal broad sweeps and raids in October 2020 were a pre-emptive strike against the commemoration of the November 2019 uprising (until then the most powerful challenge to their continued rule). In addition to the prison sentences noted above, the renowned activist and author, Narges Mohammadi, has received repeated court summons and additional charges in recent weeks. This calls for people to be alert to possible new and unexpected developments in resistance as well as repression in Iran and to act accordingly in solidarity with the brave people and political prisoners there—in the internationalist spirit of “the struggle of the Iranian people is our struggle.”

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