Toomaj Salehi: Family fears for life of rapper ‘violently arrested’ after encouraging Iranians to protest



CNN

“Someone’s crime was that their hair was blowing in the wind. Someone’s crime was being bold and outspoken.”

These lyrics may cost the life of Toomai Salehi, an Iranian rapper. In any other country, he could easily rap about the day-to-day problems faced by the people of his country without any repercussions.

But Salehi’s fate is completely different because he lives in Iran.

The 32-year-old underground dissident rapper was arrested on Saturday in a violent attack along with two friends, his uncle said, and is now charged with a crime punishable by death, Iranian state media reported.

About 14,000 people, including journalists, activists, lawyers and educators, have been arrested in Iran since September, a top UN official said.

The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who died on September 16 for not wearing a hijab after being detained by “morality police” and taken to a “rehabilitation center”. right.

“I woke up at two in the morning to a call from Toomaj’s friend saying, ‘Our place has been destroyed.'” Salehi’s uncle, Egbal Egbali, told CNN.

Egbali said he learned through Salehi’s friends that morning that about 50 people had attacked his nephew’s residence in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiar provinces in southwestern Iran.

Demonstrators hold an Iranian flag and a banner with a portrait of Toomai Salehi in Paris on November 5, 2022.

The rapper is accused of “conducting anti-government propaganda, cooperating with hostile governments and forming an illegal group to create security in the country,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported, citing the Esfahan provincial court.

Salehi’s uncle claims that his nephew is currently in prison in Isfahan and that he has information about his torture. Salehi is a resident of Shaheen Shahr, 20 kilometers north of Isfahan.

“We still don’t know anything about Toomai’s health. The family tried hard to hear his voice, but no one gave us any information about Toomai,” he said. “We don’t even know if Toomai and his friends are alive.”

Salehi’s friends, boxing champion Mohammad Reza Nikraftar and kickboxer Najaf Abu Ali, who were arrested with him over the weekend, have also not been heard from since, Egbali said.

“The accused played an important role in inciting, inciting and inciting riots in Isfahan province and Shaheen Shahr city,” Seyed Mohammad Musavian, spokesman for the Isfahan Provincial Judiciary, told IRNA.

After his arrest, a short video appeared on the Young Journalists Club (YJC), a state-backed news agency, in which Salehi appeared to be blindfolded. Salehi appeared to be under pressure to express regret for his comments on social media.

Salehi’s uncle insisted that the man in the video was not his nephew, adding that the government had political motives for releasing the short clip. Egbali also denies the government’s claim that his nephew fled when he was arrested.

“Of course not,” said Egbali. “Where Toomaj used to live, we are in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiar regions, so basically we don’t have a road to the border. This is a very strange claim. Anyone who knows the geography of Iran will not believe such a statement.”

Salehi, who was arrested in September 2021, according to the IRNA news agency, has been calling on Iranians to demonstrate against the government since nationwide protests began in mid-September.

“None of us have blood of a different color,” Salehi wrote on Instagram. “Don’t forget our wonderful union, don’t let them create a rift between us in this bloody, sad sky.”

Salehi himself is of Bakhtiar descent and has long rapped about Iran’s multi-ethnic image, encouraging unity among ethnic Iranians.

“Stay with us, we’ve been on your side for years,” Salehi raps in “Meydoone jang,” which translates to “Battlefield.”

“It is not enough to be rebellious, we have revolutionary roots. Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen, Mazandari, Sistani, Baluch, Talysh, Tatar, Azeri, Kurdish, Gilaki, Lor, Farsi, Qashqai, we are a union of rivers: we are the sea.

Iranian rapper Toomai Salehi was arrested on Saturday along with two of his friends.

A few days before his arrest, Salehi posted a video of himself in the streets with protesters on Instagram. Since then, his fans, Iranians in the diaspora, musicians and activists have called for his release.

“A lot of rappers came out and supported him,” Iranian rapper, songwriter and activist Erfan Paidar told CNN. “Toomaj had the courage to march in the street to encourage others to get out there and speak out, and to make people think, ‘If he’s willing to go there and he’s not afraid, we shouldn’t be.'”

Paidar said Salehi had recently shared a message with trusted friends, saying he would be released if he was arrested. “You will advance according to my actions. “You are my most reliable person,” the message reads.

“Students and workers are the priority, please report all calls for demonstrations, do not support any party or group, if the condition of prisoners is deteriorating, do not write too much if you do not speak up. Focus on offense, not defense.”

Security forces arrested several musicians and artists, including two other rappers who participated in the protest, Emad Gavidel from Rasht and Saman Yasin, a Kurdish rapper from Kermanshah.

Gavidel was released on bail and wrote on Instagram about how he was tortured and had his teeth broken. According to the Norwegian-based Kurdish human rights group Hengau, Yasin was subjected to severe emotional and physical torture during his detention and was accused of crimes that could carry the death penalty in a sham trial.

“Toomaj’s mother was a political prisoner,” Salehi’s uncle, who lives in Germany, told CNN. “She passed away a long time ago…if my sister had lived, she would have been the voice of Toomai. I like Toomai’s voice. Like many people on the street [in Iran] It’s Toomaj’s voice.”

Since Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, protesters across Iran have joined the regime with a variety of grievances. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities are stepping up efforts to quell the uprising. About 1,000 people have been charged in Tehran province for allegedly participating in the protests, the country’s state news agency IRNA reported last week.

The trial of the accused will be discussed in front of the public in the coming days, IRNA reported, quoting the chief judge of Tehran Province, Ali Al-Qasi Mehr.

Iranian media reported last weekend that the trial of several protesters had begun in the previous week.

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