Opinion | The Rapper Toomaj Salehi’s Arrest Shows Iran’s Crackdown on Dissent Is Failing

When anti-regime protests broke out in September 2022, Mr. Salehi, like many Iranians, found himself unable to sit on the sidelines. Despite the risk of returning to prison, he uploaded videos of his peaceful engagement from the streets of Shahin Shahr and recorded two songs highlighting the bravery and plight of the people. Iran. In essence, the artist is now living his art.

“We came to the streets like ghosts and became a nightmare for the government,” he raps in “Battlefield,” during the height of the protests. “We see the light after this hell. Neither repression nor execution can stop us. We shouted and went forward. Call us roaring warriors.” in the video for “Luck,” he confronted the clerical establishment directly, sat across from an anonymous official representing the Islamic Republic and predicted its demise by reading ground coffee.

Knowing he might be arrested again, Mr. Salehi left his home in Shahin Shahr and, with the help of friends, is said to have moved from one safe house to another. Not long after he arrestan alleged confession videotapes broadcast on state television. In it, he was blindfolded, was apparently being raped, and had bruises on his face. He claimed that he had “made a mistake”. But his family and fans say he was tortured – as has happened before when such videos were recorded by the Iranian intelligence apparatus. They now believe he needs urgent medical treatment.

As the protests captured the world’s attention, European lawmakers chose Iranian political prisoners and emphasize their case. A member of the German Parliament, Ye-One Rhie, chose Mr. Salehi. According to Ms Rhie, the rapper has since been charged with “insulting leadership”, “propaganda against the regime”, “collaborating with hostile governments”, “inviting people to kill and cause trouble” and “corruption on earth”. That last charge, used against real or supposed dissidents to suppress any opposition to the Islamic Republic, could lead to the death penalty.

Ms. Rhie said Mr. Salehi was in solitary confinement and had limited contact with his attorney since his arrest. She said there is no proceeding in his case, and a court date has yet to be announced. “However, if a trial is set, we can expect a trial based not on rules, but on arbitrariness and terrorism,” she wrote in an email to me.


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