Campaign

Update

October 23, 2023

Rebel Rapper Toomaj Salehi Is the Voice of Iran’s Political Prisoners

“I don’t deserve to be in prison even for one day”

October 23, 2023

“I don’t deserve to be in prison even for one day”
     Toomaj in a letter to his lawyers @toomajofficial 10/3/23

At 5 a.m. in a small town in central Iran, 70 security agents stormed the safe house that Toomaj and a couple of his friends were staying at. They were blindfolded and beaten mercilessly. It was October 30, 2022—six weeks into the inspiringly fierce Woman-Life-Freedom uprising in Iran.

Toomaj had been singing and posting about the uprising and was on the streets alongside the protesters. Fully aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) was hunting for him, having already been arrested in 2021 for his lyrics, he and his friends moved from place to place, using private VPN networks. He was arrested as his courageously extensive interview was aired on a Canadian news network.

“I don’t deserve to be in prison even for one day”
     Toomaj in a letter to his lawyers @toomajofficial 10/3/23

At 5 a.m. in a small town in central Iran, 70 security agents stormed the safe house that Toomaj and a couple of his friends were staying at. They were blindfolded and beaten mercilessly. It was October 30, 2022—six weeks into the inspiringly fierce Woman-Life-Freedom uprising in Iran.

Toomaj had been singing and posting about the uprising and was on the streets alongside the protesters. Fully aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) was hunting for him, having already been arrested in 2021 for his lyrics, he and his friends moved from place to place, using private VPN networks. He was arrested as his courageously extensive interview was aired on a Canadian news network.

For eight months, Toomaj was kept in solitary confinement, with medical treatment denied for severe injuries from torture. He had a broken ankle and damaged vision, with very limited access to lawyers or family, under threat of execution for the charge of “war against god” (moharebeh in Farsi). In July 2022, in a blatantly unjust trial, Toomaj was convicted of “corruption on earth” (for promoting protests on social media), sentenced to 6 years in prison and banned from music-related activities or travel outside Iran.1

@Toomajofficial is Toomaj Salehi’s official Instagram account, run by a designated admin. The image is a screenshot from the video “Noose,” released by Toomaj in September 2021, just as he was called to court on charges of propaganda against the state. Watch it and more on IEC’s Free Toomaj playlist, videos subtitled.    @toomajofficial

In 2022, as Toomaj was still in solitary and in danger of execution, the Center for Human Rights in Iran published two interviews with people close to him2. The words of one of the interviewees speak volumes about the role of defiant artists who stand with the oppressed.

Toomaj always believed that artists have a pulpit and therefore they should use it to defend the people. Toomaj’s artistic style, which is rap music, according to him, is the “voice from the bottom of society”… Toomaj always showed a reaction to the oppression and injustice that people face, regardless of their political leanings, and he was their voice. I can confidently say that if it weren’t for the media coverage and international pressure in the early days and weeks, Toomaj might not be alive today. We know that if the detained individuals remain anonymous, or if no one speaks for them, any disaster could happen to them. Therefore, it is very important that we always be their voice.

What difference does it make what we do from afar?

In this past year, Toomaj has remained one of the best of the best among Iran’s political prisoners. Our fight for them matters to those still alive today, even as there is a constant threat to their dignity, health, and safety. As Ariel Dorfman put it when he signed the IEC’s Emergency Appeal “… I am convinced—from personal experience—that the prisoners themselves are given strength to survive and persevere, they are listening. They know others, far away, care what happens to them, and we should not let them down.”

The continuing global spotlight plays an important role in not letting them down. It is demonstrated by the letter from Narges Mohammadi on winning the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize.3

It is shown in the letter from Toomaj to his lawyers where he said “… my red line are my real fans and their feelings, who have not been deceived by the accusations [against me] by newspapers, TV and cyber army of the government. And they have continued to have my back. Thanks again to you, your tireless efforts, and the hope of greatness.” Towards the hope of greatness, see the #FreeToomaj resources page from our website for descriptions and links to his music videos subtitled in English, and discover links to related media sites.

Song by @ToomajSalehi and @justinaofficialll, Video by @ToomajInternationalPage Instagram, translation of lyrics to English by IEC volunteers.

The Real Terms and Stakes to Free Toomaj and all Iran’s Political Prisoners

There is a new threat to the lives of Iran’s political prisoners with the Israel/Palestine clash—both if the Israeli war widens but also as the IRI falsely claims that anyone who opposes their oppressive regime is “pro-U.S. or pro-Israel.” While the IEC does not have an official position on this struggle per se, we are sharing a joint statement now on the IEC website as it was signed by our sister organization Burn the Cage/Free the Birds.

We cannot emphasize enough how the IEC delineated the key dividing line to free Iran’s political prisoners is more important than ever now. Our Emergency Appeal has been signed by over 5,000 people in 50 countries. It makes clear we firmly proceed from the interests of the people of the world and against the harmful and dangerous delusion of relying on the U.S. and other governments:

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!

A Final Note from IEC Organizers

Toomaj just won the arts category of Index on Censorship's 2023 Freedom of Expression Awards. Burn the Cage posted on their Instagram a tribute to Toomaj on his award: “You are the hope of people for a completely different world”—the hope of a world exemplified by Toomaj who is not about money, self and who stands against patriarchal oppression of women.

Standing with Toomaj is also to stand with the hope and dream of a better world expressed by many of Iran’s political prisoners, among them are Mehran Raouf, Sepideh Gholian, Nahid Taghavi, Narges Mohammadi, and so many others. We call on all justice loving people to fight for the release of all the political prisoners who are standing up for the rights and liberation of the people. Join with the IEC to build the needed global grassroots movement to free them. To conclude, again from the Emergency Appeal: All those who stand for justice and yearn for a better world must rally to the cause of freeing Iran’s political prisoners NOW.  Free Toomaj Salehi NOW!

Toomaj and Iran’s political prisoners deserve awards and not to be in prison even for a single day.

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