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Iran’s Supreme Court overturns rapper Toomaj Salehi’s death sentence

Iran’s supreme court overturns rapper Toomaj Selehi’s death sentence
Iran’s supreme court overturns rapper Toomaj Selehi’s death sentence Copyright Toomaj Salehi / YouTube
Copyright Toomaj Salehi / YouTube
By David Mouriquand
Published on Updated
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Iran's Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence against rapper Toomaj Salehi, who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini's death.

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Following news that dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi had been given a death sentencefor his involvement in the widespread protests that swept Iran in 2022, Salehi’s lawyer Amir Raisian has confirmed that the sentence has been overturned.

"Salehi's death sentence was overturned," Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.

"The Supreme Court prevented an irreparable judicial error," Raisian stated, adding that the court also ruled that Salehi's "previous sentence (six years and three months) was also without compliance with the rules of a multiplicity of crimes."

Index on Censorship, a campaign group which has been working with Salehi's family to free the rapper, welcomed the decision to overturn the death sentence.

“Toomaj Salehi uses his powerful art – his rapping, his music, his words – to support human rights, democracy and freedom for the Iranian people," the group said in a statement. "For this, the Iranian authorities have targeted him for years, attempting to silence him through arrests, imprisonment, torture, assaults, and even a death sentence."

It added: "It is critical that his rights are properly respected" and that "even a shorter period of imprisonment would be an injustice."

"Salehi has done nothing other than to call for his, and other Iranians’, fundamental rights to be respected."

Salehi, 33, was arrested in October 2022 after publicly backing demonstrations which had erupted a month earlier, triggered by Amini's death in the custody of the country’s morality police after being detained for wearing her hijab too loosely.

He was sentenced to death in April on the capital offence of "corruption on earth", and was also found guilty of "assistance in sedition, assembly and collusion, propaganda against the state and calling for riots". 

The months-long protests sparked by Amini's death saw hundreds of people killed and thousands arrested.

Salehi is mainly known for his protest songs concerning Iran's societal issues and the policies of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran - songs including 'Mouse Hole', 'Turkmenchay' and 'Pomegranate.'

His music YouTube video posted prior to his 2022 arrest included the lyrics: "Someone's crime was dancing with her hair in the wind / Someone's crime was that he or she was brave and criticized... 44 years of your government / It's the year of failure."

Salehi isn’t the only artist to have been targeted for showing opposition to the government. The Kurdish-Iranian rapper Saman Yasin, who was also arrested at the height of 2022’s protests in Iran, was taken to a psychiatric hospital twice in less than a year, per pro-reform news outlet IranWire. A court in Tehran sentenced Yasin to five years in prison, according to Kurdish human rights group Hengaw.

In January, another singer, Mehdi Yarrahi who criticised the headscarf requirement for women was sentenced to a total of two years and eight months in prison on multiple charges. The court later changed Yarrahi's sentence to home confinement due to his health issues.

Nine men have been executed in protest-related cases involving killings and other violence against security forces.

The decision to overturn Salehi’s death sentence comes during Iran’s presidential elections, which are due to be held on 28 June following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on 19 May. One of the issues is the enforcing of the hijab for women, but little has been said about the treatment of dissidents.

Additional sources • AFP - Index on Censorship

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